Her name meant spring gardens, high yellow lilies swaying in the wind, bowing collectively to the breath of God. Her mother named her that because while pregnant with the child, her dreams were full of never-ending seas of shaking grass, the two walking through them together, warm fingers intertwined, barefoot. Her mother was an artist, a soft curved woman with gravity defying hair the color of syrup. She would rub gray black charcoal in-between her knuckles, the dust collecting underneath the whites of her fingernails, and draw onto egg shell colored canvases that were rough to the touch. Her mother sketched people––their faces––in pain, sorrow, neglect, anger, grief, mourning. She was interested in the way people emote the absence of joy. And so with her hands, rubbed their expressions into the canvas in an effort to capture them in that moment forever.
Her mother always smoked crumbled weed from a pipe right before she began a new piece. It was a ritual, the daughter watching her from the tattered red woven couch in the living room, through the glass paneled door that separated it from the kitchen. And this is where her mother erected her makeshift studio four days a week, opting for the tiled floors over the damp carpet to make her mess.
The girl would always watch her mother take three deep breaths from the blown glass and close her eyes. When she opened them, she’d be in a trance, moving as if guided by something outside of herself. The daughter never understood what exactly went through her mother’s brain, through her body, as she depicted these absences of joy. And her mother never told her, never explained why she chose to find beauty in suffering. Or how smoking the plant allowed her to feel, to see art in people’s ugliest moments, when they are their least beautiful selves.
When the girl turned 17, her mother drove them in their rattling jean blue car north out of the city to where the road ended in forest. They walked along the paths, carrying charcoal and canvas along with home grown buds, music, and food. Her mother led them to a hidden meadow covered with lime green grass and flowers with pomegranate colored petals. Fuzzy cone shaped plants the color of indigo tickled the bottoms of their knees as she led them to the center of the plain. Her mother then lay wool blankets out on the Earth beneath them, and there they sat in the glowing sun as she showed her daughter how to coax the delicate damp plant onto the paper and how to roll it in between gentle but steady fingers. The mother then practiced breathing in and out for her daughter and told her to expect a tight warmth in her chest. The daughter breathed in the plant for the first time, coughing after the first breath, and the second, and the third, but breathing in nonetheless, slowly succumbing to the gradual float in her head and chest and limbs.
They finished the joint while lying on their backs, the untrimmed flowers and weeds caressing their shoulders. They stared up at the pale blue sky and counted the clouds as they passed the burning paper between them. Afterwards, the mother pulled her daughter to her feet, turned on the music, and reached for the charcoal.
“I want to draw you dancing,” her mother told her. She didn’t say what she was trying to capture.
The girl obeyed her mother without question; she knew it was futile to ask her mother why when it came to her art.
Her body lifted with ease from the grass and started to move with the flowers; she was being guided by something other than herself, by something outside of herself, as if she were dancing with an angel, her blue black hair, just as gravity defying as her mother’s, bouncing in the wind. Once the piece was completed, the daughter grabbed her mother’s blackened hands, their fingers intertwined, and pulled her into the dance too. They floated around each other all afternoon, charcoal smudged in-between their knuckles, their toes barefoot and one with the Earth.
When her mother dies a few years later, leaving the daughter alone with pain, sorrow, neglect, anger, grief, and mourning, the daughter will spend hours crying quietly, distantly wondering what her mother would see first if she could look into her face, what she would draw first, if she could witness her only daughter in such sorrow. At their house, after the funeral, she will shuffle slowly through the pieces her mother left behind, surrounded by half-finished portraits of men in anger, blurred profiles of children in tantrum, and of course, gray black fingerprints everywhere.
Eventually, she will find her mother’s glass blown pipes, all the size of a palm, pale brown papers kept in a little wooden box, and her marujuana plants leaning against each other in their brick orange pots. She will then fill one of the bowls and light it, turn on a record, and dance through the half-empty apartment, the smoke drifting up to the ceiling like lazy clouds. She will dance, her body pulling her along to the rhythm, twirling on the tips of her toes, and stretching her limbs out into soft curves as she listens to the music.
In the midst of it all, she will kick a canvas out of one of the many piles littered across the living room and kitchen, and not recognizing it, stop to pull it from the mess. The covering will be blank, unmarked, and so she will pull the canvas, as tall as her torso and wider than her wingspan, out of its sleeve, only to be met with a finger rubbed depiction of her sleeping face.
It’s a portrait from when she was younger, from before she became a teenager, and she is shocked at her mother’s capture of innocence and peace in the midst of all those moments of unrest on the floor. On the canvas, the daughter rests in a plain of flowers, the black and gray charcoal smudged into shapes of tulips and roses and sunflowers and daisies, into the shape of her closed almond eyes and the bend of her lashes, their shadows drawn delicately onto her cheeks.
On the back, scribbled messily are the words: For my Meadow.
The daughter will be consumed by her loss, the tears and snot running down her face and her ribs twisting inside her with grief, but then, as if plucked from one rip current into another, she will be consumed by love, by gratefulness, by the warmth of simple and joyful memory. She will smile and later dream of never-ending seas of shaking grass, walking through them with her mother and her canvas, barefoot, the feeling of her blackened fingers intertwined with hers staying with her until morning.