after Maria Sibylla Merian
What’s your urgent charge, if not transformation?
1. Ornate lory on branch of peach tree
After my second son was born, I slipped into a severe postpartum depression. I remember nursing the baby, staring blankly out the window at a cold gray April that refused to warm.
My best friend, who was living on another continent and whose first baby had been due the same day as my son, had lost her child suddenly—a full-term stillbirth—without explanation. I felt both lucky and ungrateful, unable to appreciate what I had and unable to console my friend.
There was a peach tree outside our bedroom window that, despite the cold, spread its fragile petals over the narrow city street.
One day, I watched a small green parrot land on a branch. It must have been an escaped pet; as far as I know, there are no wild parrots in Philadelphia. But in my melancholy state, I just stared, barely registering the strangeness. I saw it as a sign. A sign of what? I can’t remember now. Surely something dark. Dislocation? Alienation? The embattled natural world and its inevitable destruction? Something like that.
Later, I saw a reproduction of a painting by the seventeenth-century naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian: Ornate lory on branch of peach tree. I felt an uncanny flash of recognition when I looked at it, this precise rendering of the beauty I had been unable to see when it sat in front of me.