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There are as many as twenty species of flowers in this tapestry. They are depicted with great scientific accuracy--greater than in any of the botany textbooks of the time. They include English bluebells, oxlip, bistort, cuckoopint, and Madonna lily. Botanists haven't been able to identify a few; it's possible that they are flowers that have gone extinct since 1500.

--Richard Preston, in The New Yorker


   Although we commonly apply it to species, it's only
   another way to say "extinguished." So a single
   candle flame can be, and obviously will be soon,
   extinct. Or a person: look at these people
   walking out of a square of the sepia morning light
   from the 1940's: what were they, to Time,
   these little parents, if not candle flames? My mother
   is holding a clutch of flowers they must have picked
   together, or that he handed to her as a gift,
   although the kind of flowers by now
   is as mysterious as the ones in the Unicorn Tapestries
   at the Cloisters, 1940 and 1500 being
   equal flames to the breath of the world.

   As the Blahdy-Blahdy-Blah Distinguished Professor
   of Humanities where I teach, I sometimes have my students
   select one of the seven Unicorn Tapestries to inspire
   an in-class essay. I have two things to say. The first:
   the best included this: "So often I've heard the phrase
   'the fabric of Time' used loosely, casually;
   it's a pleasure to find it made literal here.
   The weft and warp are so excellently plied,
   that over 500 years later these stems and petals
   look as if they were just whisked out
   of a cone of florist's wrapping paper." I like that.
   The second: my friend's daughter Zoe, three, once
   blurted out: "Extinguished Professor!" Well,
   not yet. Still threading my way on through.

   And some went horribly: they were dragged behind
   a car and partially skinned alive in the process;
   shot, while kneeled and begging
   the child's release; or slowly turned to stone
   by a fatal witchery in their own cells. Others,
   easily: at ninety-five, in a restful sleep.
   And some, in an unsolvable obscurity: a weekend
   out of town, and then ... an open-ended
   nothing. So we see there's no such thing
   as Death--it's more of an ensemble cast; each,
   a different assignment. A different one of us.
   And what we are is names that linger only for a while,
   until the names too disappear. Goodbye, Sweet William,
   Daisy, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Lily, Black-eyed Susan.

Albert Goldbarth

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Author:Goldbarth, Albert
Publication:Atlanta Review
Article Type:Poem
Date:Sep 22, 2007
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