Sitting on the subway, I notice, for the first time, the tartan pattern on the train seats: maroon diamonds, with tiny, dark pink blossoms in the center of the repeating design.
The trees sprout fistfuls of white flowers. I stare up at the boughs, mesmerized. The color instantly reminds me of the vivid, graphic white of Georgia O’Keeffe’s painted ram skulls. My brain connects it to another secluded memory, and suddenly I remember, with unbelievable clarity, my elementary school art teacher helping me tie-dye a shirt in a bucket. She was the woman who first showed me how a painting can operate on the mind: painful, striking, stinging. A rebuke meant to pull me out of stillness. The ram’s head, a many-petalled flower emerging from a bone socket. I blink as the cherry blossoms, small and charmingly delicate, flutter in the breeze. I imagine reaching out and wrenching them from the branches.
An elderly man approaches me and Strawberry as we admire the multi-colored (red, pink, white) blossoms growing from a tiny tree at the center of a roundabout. “Peach,” he says gently, when Strawberry idly muses that the flowers might be cherry blossoms. He walks us over to an authentic cherry flowering by the roadside. “This is a Yoshino cherry,” he tells us in Japanese. All Yoshino cherry trees, he continues, cannot produce seeds; they are not descendants but clones of an original cherry tree. I furrow my brow, unsure that I’ve understood correctly. He joins his two fists and then parts them so each hand heads in a different direction. He repeats the motion, looking at us expectantly. I am still cheerfully confused, but Strawberry understands the pantomime: the cherry trees don’t grow unassisted. They have been propagated by man via grafting.
Grafting: uniting tissue from two plants so that they continue their growth together. There’s something both unexpectedly happy and sad about that. I sit at my desk, in front of the computer, scrolling through photos of cherry tree after cherry tree. Each time, I click through images of the same tree placed in a different setting, a different fable, accompanied by a different cast of characters. Yoshino gilding the river in petals. Stippled around a school yard, providing tree cover for new graduates posing in their cap and gown. Part of a curated assembly, Yoshino slotted between radiant Japanese wisteria. Vapid Yoshino, overseeing a picnic. Growing fitfully, Yoshino awash the mountainside.
I video chat with my father, ten thousand kilometers away in quarantine, and he gasps aloud. “You’re outside?” he says, unfazed by my attempts to show him the cherries in bloom.