Purple and Gold





Flowers in my pocket

deep inside my pocket

there is sorrow

there is pain

but somewhere deep within

there must’ve been a seed of hope

for my pocket is now bursting

with flowers, purple and gold

they spill out o’er the top

like waterfalls from rocks

after a spring rain

but deep inside my pocket

 there is sorrow,

there is pain

I wrote this poem 15 years ago, the morning after my first date with my husband. I had dreamt that night that there was a bouquet of flowers, purple and gold, bursting  from my breast pocket, directly over my heart, whose soil at the time had been broken open and laden with the humus of loss. The next day, without knowing about the dream, that dear man sent flowers to me at my workplace.

They were purple and gold.

Several years later, when we were married, the poem was read at our wedding. I wore a purple cotton dress and he wore a gold silk shirt, and we passed out sunflowers to our guests. The first home we lived in together, while completing the labor of love that was the raising of our children, was situated on a postage-sized plot of suburban lawn, which we, over the 8 years that we lived there, gradually replaced with (mostly) native gardens. It was an act of love for both of us,  but particularly for me, as, with my hands in the soil, the earth healed me as I breathed new life into her. The earth and I were engaged in a relationship of reciprocal tending. The work of restoring to that bit of land what had been stripped from her in her taming – letting her become a little more wild and encouraging her to blossom with what may have once come naturally -restored and freed those same places in me. My husband and I complemented one another in that work. He provided the structure…. building walkways and walls,  digging beds and ponds…. I filled them with color and life.

We named that garden, Flowers in my Pocket. It was overflowing with blossoms, purple and gold.

Recently, I listened to an interview OnBeing, with botanist, Robin Wahl Kimmerer, who was drawn to the study of plants because she wanted to know why purple and gold were so beautiful together. She had grown up in upstate New York, where the aster and goldenrod painted the fields around her home with color each fall.

What she learned is that the eyes of insects are similar to those of humans when it comes to perceiving the colors purple and gold. The fact that the wavelengths of purple and gold are received by the same cones in our eyes (whereas blue has its own receptors and so does red), which then flood that signal to our brains, makes that combination sensually saturated. It grabs our attention and then fills us. It does the same for bees, which are so drawn to the color combination that more pollinators visit a field with purple and gold flowers than would visit a field with just one color. Thus, more flowers are pollinated in their blooming together than would be if they grew separately from each other.

Her artist friends taught her that purple and gold are opposite one another on the color wheel ‘as different in nature as can be’ and that ‘in composing a palette, putting them together makes each more vivid; just a touch of one will bring out the other’. Turning to Goethe, she found this quote ‘colors diametrically opposed to each other.. are those which reciprocally evoke each other in the eye’. Her printmaker friends confirmed this when they showed her how staring at one color of the pair and then immediately staring at a white sheet of paper would elicit the other color in a phenomenon called ‘color afterimage’.

“Purple and gold are a reciprocal pair…the pairing of (them) is lived reciprocity. Its wisdom is that the beauty of one is illuminated by the radiance of the other” – Robin Wahl Kimmerer, in Braiding Sweetgrass*

My husband and I are also diametrically opposite to one another. Our Meyer’s Briggs types are exact reversals (mirror images?) of each other. If there is a math problem to solve, I go around to the right and he to the left — to reach the same answer. I thrive in metaphor where he dwells in hands-on and concrete. His body temperature runs hot in the morning, when I am cold; he is cold in the evening, when I am warm. I make a mess. He cleans up. We once carried in our pockets 2 halves of oppositely swirling ammonite fossils, and hanging on the wall overtop of our headboard is a photo of 2 individual trees standing on opposite sides of a deep valley. You get the point. Sometimes it is downright comedic.

When I am among the trees and the lakes, I feel nurtured and supported, loved and in love. Though my husband has learned to appreciate our backcountry experiences, he does not share the same passion for wild places as do I, does not feel it in his bones the way that I do. He goes because he loves me (and that is a BIG deal), but it does not bring him alive in the same way, doesn’t whisper to him, as it does to me, something of his own essence.  There are also places that bring him alive – the marketplace for instance – that deaden me. Sometimes that is downright sad.

Watching his energy drain over time from the raw physicality of it all, in these wild places where I feel such embodied vibrancy, brings great sadness to this part of me that longs for connection and shared joy, for my partner and I to come together, mutually in love with something (as perhaps young married couples are with their children)  When my yearnings are running high, the loss of that can bring me to grief (killing my joy)– complete with its stages of anger and blame, bargaining and denial. I experienced all of those and more that dark, rainy night next to the water.

Sometimes I worry about that. I wonder where our alivenesses might intersect at this autumn stage of our lives. I fear our tugging tensions will pull us apart. I fear that I want too much.

But then I remember the purple and gold in those autumn fields, that reciprocal pairing.

I wonder about the subtle difference between mutuality and reciprocality.  The word ‘mutual’ has more to do with something in ‘common’ whereas ‘reciprocal’ seems to connote equal sides, each giving to the other.  In math, a number multiplied by its reciprocal equals One.

My hope is that we complement one another, each bringing to the other what would not be a part of our lives otherwise, like those bees to those blossoms. My hope is that, as with the artist’s palette, the touch of one evokes something more vivid in the other, that ‘the beauty of one is illuminated by the radiance of the other’. My prayer is that we continue to practice wiping the slate clean, so that gazing anew, with receptive hearts and eyes, at the mystery of the other, we might behold in the afterimage, the wonder of our paired colors.


*I’d carried this book with me in my backpack during our canoe trip and was awestruck to discover these words, so much needed. Who can explain such a gift as that?

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