Or everything I know about succulents in poem form.
1. My husband collects cactus plants. Or rather, I buy him cactus plants to collect. He brought one home several years ago, planted it outside our house, tended to the succulent with pride, bent over to point out new growths when I passed by. Look at this he would say with teeth showing. When we moved, too impractical to take, the cactus was left behind for the next tenants. I wonder if he still thinks about it.
2. On vacation, hours are spent at the Desert Botanical Gardens. Over ten thousand cacti to point at, compare, and pose next to. I learn that Saguaro is pronounced “sah-wah-ro” and almost rhymes with sorrow. Fully-grown, it can hold nearly seven hundred liters of water. I try to fathom this much water. I’ve heard the average human body is sixty-percent water. If so, I hold fifty-one liters of water. We return to our small apartment with a magnet and postcard.
3. So I buy him more cactus plants the way you do when you learn someone’s likes. Three different kinds sit on the windowsill beside me while I work. There used to be four, but one has died. I once believed that cacti were incapable of death- able to persevere in the desert despite insufferable summer days and unbearable winter nights. Yet, our temperate apartment is somehow not the correct conditions for growth.
4. He lists off the three remaining types of cacti: Opuntia microdasys or the polka-dot cactus; Mammillaria elongata or the ladyfinger cactus; and Ferocactus cylindraceus or the barrel cactus. Each is appropriately named.
5. After watering the plants one day, I ponder aloud which of them would hurt the most. We each pick one up, examine the texture of its spines, then swap pots and observations. We finally agree that the barrel cactus -with its thick fishhooks- would do the most damage. I cannot help myself, so I raise my finger to touch them. After light pressure to each though, I determine that our guess is incorrect.
6. I tell him about the times I got prickly-pear spines stuck in my hands or in my feet, about how it stung when my mother pulled them out with tweezers or worse- how it burned when they were too short to pull out. She’d hand me an ice cube and say, you’re just going to have to let it work itself out. This seems to be the answer to most problems.