Nolan Lee :: “Irises”


His first visit to the art gallery deserves no remembrance except that he glanced at the photograph of the irises (Irises) on his way out, and that this was his first encounter with them.


Compelled by something unknown, he visited the gallery again. This visit, he stood before the irises for about thirty seconds, noting the symmetry of the titular flowers, the straightness of their stems, and the blocky patches of shine on the vase. That is the extent of what he noticed, but his noticing was admirable for a person. Again, the flowers were the last piece he observed.


This visit lasted for two minutes. That morning’s fresh sun had opened his mind to clarity, and he knew he’d not given the irises their fair due. He learned them to be the work of Robert Mapplethorpe, so he fastidiously studied the photograph for perversion. The irises were phallic and the vase yonic, or the irises yonic and the vase phallic. He attempted to see both the irises and the vase as phallic, wanting to entertain Mapplethorpe’s androphilia, but could not, at that point. He dreamed of the irises in their gilded black and white, that night. 


He only read the description of the irises once, because their description angered him. He would have vocalized his disturbance, but found he could not indulge sound. He instead narrowed his sight to the irises alone while banishing his other senses. The curator or someone had connected the temporary beauty of flowers to the temporary beauty of people, specifically those poor victims of the AIDS epidemic. He disliked on principle that humans would think of themselves as relevant to irises, the idea that their preoccupation with meaning had anything to do with the irises, which had nothing to do with any person. He reached his hand out towards the flowers, wanting to feel their skin under his fingers, but was gently led out by a guard, which he disliked on principle.


This visit he came to view only the irises, swatting away birds and insects on his journey to the gallery. He picked a feather from his hair. (His trip had been treacherous.) He planted himself before the irises, swaying gently in the gallery’s ambient air currents. He noticed that the petals ascended an angular matterhorn of light formed by the sun penetrating some out of frame windows, that the shadow of the irises in the bottom left corner was like the shadow of a bushy and vital tree, and that the photograph would make a lovely still life, yes, by some Impressionist master, but had already achieved perfection in simply being the irises themselves. He was in front of the irises for many hours.


This visit he picked petals out of his hair as well, circled by a confusion of bees, arriving at the gallery at the moment of its opening. The inside of his mouth tasted sweet. A woman who looked like Diane Arbus had photographed him on the walk. He did have some idea of what was happening. 

He neglected noticing the unevenness of light on the vase, or the shadow cast on the right side of the wall behind the irises, or photography, because those things had become frightening. He had had a job, yes, but by then he didn’t much care about how to reach it, and so he spent the whole of his day with the irises. He realized he was in the gallery, and not looking out at the gallery, after some time, and left once he was required to. 

The irises did not stay and they did not leave. 


He would have left bed to visit the irises again, but he did not have to. He was not in bed. A rush of nonspecific bloom was seeping out of his mattress and searching for chinks in the loam of its foam chunks, from which old hairs were being expelled.


Nolan Lee is a poet and short story writer from New Jersey who wishes he wasn’t from New Jersey. He has previously been published in Elán magazine, Vext magazine, and indicia literary journal.