act prescribed by C.T.
• 21 nights, knot a ribbon each night on each branch of my dead verbena plant
• 24 June 2016 (birthday of my daughter) – burn my dead verbena plant
• be accompanied by a man
• cover my naked body with the ashes and plant a new plant into the firing pit• walk outside and eat a piece of cake
For three weeks, each evening before going to bed, I knot a strip of fabric on the dry branches of my dead verbena. I enunciate a simple formula, Y + M = Z (our daughter) instead of Y + M = love forever. The first formula is the only one that can make sense now. For the ribbons, I choose to tear an african textile that a friend gave me when my daughter was just born. I used that fabric a few times as a wrap to carry her in as a baby. A bright orange cotton with a humorous print of ventilators in the unmistakable style of Vlisco, a true batik wax print. I tear it in 21 strips. I find it quite pretty now, this dead plant ornamented with 21 orange knots. Perhaps I should keep it, just like this, as a decorative item…. (what a vain idea)
The fateful day comes. I dwelled for days with making the right choice of man to go with me, as C.T. imperatively requests in the act she prescribed. Most of my male friends would likely turn the moment into a fun experience or get too serious, either ways not what I am looking for. What about asking Y? Ah yes Y, it makes the most sense to do it with him as he is the one who broke my heart and left me with this now totally dead verbena.
This plant had her time of glory. I got it as a baby plant, a present on our first date. I planted it immediately in my garden and it grew so fast. It started to look like a little tree. It smelled wonderfully and each morning I would pluck a few leaves to throw in boiling water, starting my day with the appeasing citrus scent of fresh verbena. Then it died. Death by irreversible dryness. Most domesticated plants die from neglect or get asphyxiated by too much liquid care, causing their roots to rot and deprive their body from oxygen. This one strangely seemed to have decided herself to die. I write a message to Y, he is flattered but declines the invitation… too bad. I decided I would recover “alone”, without replacing my love by one with another man. So I shall go burn my dried-out verbena alone.
I only remember now that the act prescribes me to plant another plant on the exact spot of the firing. I decide to buy a very beautiful lavender plant. A ‘spike’ one that smells really strong, not the ‘fringed’ ones that are only decorative. I am ready… but it’s raining. I cycle towards Flevopark with both plants, a dead one and an alive one. It is a bit gloomy. The grass is freshly mown, so large circles of long grass surround each tree and the lawns look so boringly neat. I don’t like it. I am cycling around. I don’t seem to find a good spot. After a few rounds I decide to check the bushes alongside the lake. There is a small path leading to a tiny wooden pier, perfect to jump into the lake. I thought it would be an ideal spot to make-out on a date if it didn’t also look like a junkie’s hot spot… This is the spot. There is a huge tree trunk laying on the ground, fallen from the storm, its roots pulled out of the earth. Its missing outline leaves right enough light to get through for the fresh lavender to possibly survive. It is raining and my favorite platforms pumps sink into the wet earth.
I start. I took three lighters and a big box of matches. I thought the fire would start instantly because the plant looks absolutely dry, but it’s raining and it doesn’t ignite at all… I try branch by branch and the fabric knots burn pretty well, flames matching their orange tone. I should have taken alcohol, for me and the plant. Fire has the power to create and destroy but my verbena is almost not burning. I am now using more matches than plant wood, the ratio is not right. It starts blackening a bit and even smells kinda good. A strange mix of the verbena’s citrus smell, the matches’ sulphur and the rotten earthly smell of undergrowth nearby the lake. I am not sure I like the smell, but it is not repulsive either. I force myself to think of Y. I repeat in a mantra it is absolutely over. I make myself cry. I think of the happy time we had. His good jokes, his bad jokes. The birth of our daughter. I just can’t cry anymore, it hurts my skin. Fire disintegrated my love residue. There are tiny little pieces of blackened wood in the earth hole in front of me. I take one and rub my arms, my legs and my face. It doesn’t really stain as charcoal should, but I look a bit dirty. I hesitate to keep a fragment of this calcinated plant, but nothing should be held onto. I take the lavender out of its plastic pot and plant it in the hole over the burned leftovers. I cover its base with more earth and make it more compact on its sides in a gentle press. I raise my eyes up towards a dark grey sky to check if there would really be enough light for the lavender… I think it is going to die here for sure, but I can’t go back now… I just hope it won’t. I walk back towards my bike because I have to start preparing for the birthday party of my daughter. I feel a bit dark, a bit unsure if I didn’t totally fuck-up this super symbolic mission. It’s raining again. I go home. I forgot to eat the piece of cake.
– text by Marie Ilse Bourlanges, published in Parking Lot #4, October 2018
Fig 1. analogue photograph of burning verbena