When I met my daughter briefly, between her travels to two foreign places that begin with the letter “B,” she told me of two summer night wonders she had seen at her first exotic location.
One was a green flash when the sun completed its descent at the sea’s horizon–a burst so quick that it could register on the human eye, but not be preserved on film.
The second was a cactus whose isolated buds flower only for brief moments in the middle of a single midsummer night: the Queen of the the Night.
My daughter had stayed up to see one of them bloom.
“Much better name than ‘lady of the evening,'” I murmured, trying to envision such a flower. In my mind I saw a rose-like blossom with crimson petals that unfurled and turned to velvet where touched by moonbeams.
As it turns out, the Queen of the Night is pearl-white, not red–the better fleetingly to capture and reflect the moon’s light.
She blossoms alone, ordinarily unseen by earthly eyes.
Carol Ann Duffy wrote Midsummer Night, about different kinds of ephemeral wonders of the wee hours–and about what can and cannot be seen, though it may or may not be there:
Not there to see midsummer’s midnight rose
open and bloom, me,
or there when the river dressed in turquoise
under the moon, you;
not there when stones softened, opened, showed
the fossils they held
or there, us, when the dark sky fell to the earth
to gather its smell.
Not there when a strange bird sang on a branch
over our heads, you
and me, or there when a starlit fruit ripened
itself on a tree.
Not there to lie on the grass of our graves, both,
alive alive oh,
or there for Shakespeare’s shooting star,
or for who we are,
but elsewhere, far. Not there for the magic hour
when time becomes love
or there for light’s pale hand to slip, slender,
from darkness’s glove.
Not there when our young ghosts called to us
from the other side
or there where the heron’s rags were a silver gown,
by grace of the light.
Not there to be right, to find our souls, we,
dropped silks on the ground,
or there to be found again by ourselves, you, me,
mirrored in water.
Not there to see constellations spell themselves on the sky
and black rhyme with white
or there to see petals fold on a rose like a kiss
on midsummer night.