Flower in Ulysses: Stuck in the Middle

In honor of Bloomsday, June 16


The morning of December 16, 2004 is cold. Henry Flower sees this through his kitchen window, pausing in the middle of scrambling breakfast for his wife Moira, who was still in bed: a bright clear blue through the trees, though it was only 8 a.m. Still, implacable, its substance invisible, Flower stares at one thing (nothing) and thinks of another (subject).

eggsThe yolks, an uncomfortable color, saturated ochre against the inverted bowl of a Scandinavian sky stare up at him, he a reflection hanging over a viscous pool. Caught between action and decision, the fact of thought arriving just before its content, Flower does not beat the eggs. They cannot be unbeaten and, if beaten twice after an interval, may not be the same. The meal still unmade will not be complete; it lacks flesh.


On Main Street in Trumansburg heading for the P.O., Flower crosses the eponymous creek and passes the café. He does not stop in now and recalls the mornings past when all he wanted was a cup and no protracted interaction, and bought it at a service station instead.


abnertremanHis unread letter in his pocket, Flower, his hat pulled down around his ears, pauses before the millstone memorial. It begins to snow. Down the hill Flower sees a bent figure limping toward him through the white air: his tricorn bound down, his overcoat clutched before him: Abner Treman, long dead, returning home shy one foot.


At the Free Press Flower stares at the reflection of the front page in the window and recalls the smell of Hassidic boys hunched over their texts on the northbound A train. But for the grace of circumstance, there went he.
In the office he places a classified ad that reads simply, “Help wanted,” with his number. A young man drops off a letter to the editor that he did not write. Flower will see to him later.


In the Falls restaurant Flowers eats a silent meal alone and thinks about the earlier, happier days of his marriage. On his way in, Neely Blynn, an old flame, went by him and said, “Hello, Henry” without a trace of rancor. Last month he returned home to find his wife, an actress, had gone away on tour. She had left a note on their bed and he had never found it, having slept on the couch in the living room the entire time she had been away.


yuengling-brewery-lord-chesterfield-aleFeeling strangely expansive after drinking three Yuenglings in the Falls taproom, Flower regales fellow patrons with his interpretation of the 1984 Alex Cox film Repo Man as a retelling of the Grail quest. His interlocutors are divided between puzzlement and disinterest.


Neely Blynn encounters the ghost of Abner Treman on East Main and in the snow mistakes him for a tramp. She presses three dollar bills into his chapped fingers. He stares at the portraits of his former commanding officer and then moves off toward the warm café.


While eating a plate of fries in the Pourhouse, Flower watches his wife’s tour manager make his stolid way across Main, his figure blurred by fogged glass and flaked air. Flower knows the terminus of Malloy’s excursion and smiles wanly as the fiddler in the corner makes his way through “Rockin’ the Cradle.”


As the evening darkens, the Pourhouse fills with well-known faces and opinions. Flower finds that he is listening to an attack on his plan for peace in the Middle East. His companion, his good eye rimmed red with exhaustion, is loudly insisting that the Palestinians have every right to every acre, and he will not hear Flower’s “perverted thoughts” on finding a reasonable compromise between European and Near Eastern traditions of land use.


Hummingbird-Photo-300pxThe young woman next to him is leaning forward as if she would like to hear words that he is not speaking. This provides a view of which she seems proud. Flower looks up at the silent television. He sees footage of a hummingbird suspended before a conical corolla, its beak plunged inside, and he smiles.


At the home birth of his niece Flower thought it possible that she would learn to speak by making every sound every generation before her had uttered and then just join them together when she was ready to be understood.


Flower is standing outside, where the wind and snow have stopped, looking up at the stars.
Flower:     I see shapes that I’m not supposed to see. Look there’s Moira. She doesn’t look happy.
Moira:     What ever happened to my breakfast? What ever happened to you? You just disappeared … about 10 years ago.
To escape the speaking sky, Flower ducks into a doorway and up the stairwell to sound of a party. Once inside he spies the young man from the newspaper office and makes for him.
Flower:    Didn’t I see you earlier today?
Daniel Icarus: I believe you saw right through me, sir. I now I am looking right through you. What of it?


Big Friendly Flowers

Sunflowers are impressively large. They are probably one of the few flowers–hollyhocks being another–that can frequently be taller than you are–sometimes much taller. These members of the aster family are fast-growing annuals and perennials; some of them can reach 15 feet.

If you are used to seeing sunflowers growing in rows or bunches at the back of flowerbeds, then it is a bit of a shock to see fields of them stretching away into the distance when you first stumble upon a commercial planting of them. Sunflowers (Helianthus annus) were cultivated first by the tribal peoples of the Great Plains.

Helianthus annus

Lewis and Clark wrote of seeing them growing and in use. Archeological evidence indicates they were domesticated and subjected to selective breeding for over 5000 years. Early Spanish explorers of the Great Plains brought the seeds back to the Old World where they became a commercially cultivated crop, initially in Russia, and then throughout Europe. By the early 19th century, as Lewis and Clark walked across the northern Great Plains, witnessing the aboriginal cultivation and use of the plant on its native ground, commercial cultivation in Russia was reaching 2 million acres.

For the first several hundred years of its European sojourn the sunflower was largely grown as an ornamental. In 1716 an English patent was approved for the extraction of oil from the seeds. By the late 18th century commercial cultivation for oil production was in full swing. In addition, to oil production though, another variety was grown for direct consumption of the seeds.

In the late 19th century the sunflower returned to the U.S. from Russia as a commercial crop. The Canadian government took the sunflower quite seriously and began a breeding program in 1930. Through the 20th century the popularity of sunflower oil increased and consequently so did the amount of acreage under cultivation, spreading down from Canada into Minnesota and North Dakota.

The first place that I can recall seeing sunflowers grown commercially was in Germany. In addition to sunflower oil, the Germans are quite fond of grinding up sunflower seeds into a meal and adding it to bread.

Commercial growing
Commercial growing

The German fondness for incorporating sunflower meal into bread as spread over the decades into neighboring European countries and is not unknown in the United States.

The mammoth nodding heads of sunflowers (which, most people know, get their name from their heliotropic habit) are not actually single flowers at all. In fact, each ostensible “flower” is composed of two types of blossom. Each apparent petal is actually a single sterile “ray flower,” the primary of which is to collectively attract insects and other pollinators. The “disk flowers,” which fill the region inside the ring of ray flowers are the sexual organs of the plant. Each tiny flower holds both male (anthers) and female (pistil) organs.

Although they contain both genders, sunflowers are self-sterile; the pollen of a given plant needs to be transported to another plant in order for fertilization to take place. In other words, if you wish to your own sunflowers to breed true to variety, you have to grow them several miles from other varieties in order to produce seed that will produce plants that resemble the previous generation. As this sort of geographical isolation is unlikely, you are better off doing the pollination manually.

Manual pollination is done by first insuring that no insect pollination can take place by–just before the disk flowers open–covering the selected flower heads with a bag made of porous material (air should circulate and moisture be allowed to escape in order to avoid mold). After the flowers open and the anthers have emerged, you can brush the pollen off of them into a plastic bag with a paintbrush. Take this pollen to a second plant, dust the pollen off the anthers of that plant into a second bag, and then brush the pollen from the first plant onto the pistils of the second. Repeat the pollen transfer process, brushing the pollen from the second plant onto the flower of the first.