THE LILIESThis morning it was, on the pavement, When that smell hit me again And set the houses reeling. People passed like rain: (The way rain moves and advances over the hills) And it was hot, hot and dank, The smell like animals, strong, but sweet too. What was it? Something I had forgotten. I tried to remember, standing there, Sniffing the air on the pavement. Somehow I thought of flowers. Flowers! That bad smell! I looked: down lanes, past houses--There, behind a hoarding, A rubbish-heap, soft and wet and rotten. Then I remembered: After the rain, on the farm, The vlei that was dry and paler than a stone Suddenly turned wet and green and warm. The green was a clash of music. Dry Africa became a swamp And swamp-birds with long beaks Went humming and flashing over the reeds And cicadas shrilling like a train. I took off my clothes and waded into the water. Under my feet first grass, then mud, Then all squelch and water to my waist. A faint iridescence of decay, The heat swimming over the creeks Where the lilies grew that I wanted: Great lilies, white, with pink streaks That stood to their necks in the water. Armfuls I gathered, working there all day. With the green scum closing round my waist, The little frogs about my legs, And jelly-trails of frog-spawn round the stems. Once I saw a snake, drowsing on a stone, Letting his coils trail into the water. I expect he was glad of rain too After nine moinths of being dry as bark. I don't know why I picked those lilies, Piling them on the grass in heaps, For after an hour they blackened, stank. When I left at dark, Red and sore and stupid from the heat, Happy as if I'd built a town, All over the grass were rank Soft, decaying heaps of lilies And the flies over them like black flies on meat...
Doris Lessing