The Inside of a Rose Richest of Colors

Mitchell Hibbs

University of Tennessee Chattanooga
The Burgeon-
Now when I close my eyes, it is not dark, nor do I see familiar, dim light shining through my eyelids.
I am met with a whale fall.

When a whale dies, their remains do not decompose in the same manner as smaller marine
creatures. Their gigantic bodies are left to sink slowly through the water and rest upon the ocean
fl
oor. Depending on where this happens, the impact on what lies below them varies. Often, whales

die in shallower waters. Warm and densely inhabited, the time it takes their bodies to decay is
relatively brief. The mercurial, lush life around them quickly incorporates their energy back into the
surrounding ecosystem. Seldom, though, a whale falls into a more foreign region of the ocean.

Areas in the hadalpelagic zone (the trenches) are deserts in comparison to their shallower
counterparts. The prefix “Hadal” is an etymological reference to Hades, the Greek god of the
underworld. A unique environment under immense pressure from the water above, strange and
seemingly alien life resides here. Only the scarce droppings of marine snow, energy from
hydrothermal vents, and what can be lured in through the use of bioluminescence or ambush
represent the typical forms of sustenance. Finding their way here by chance, separated from light
and heat, a whale’s corpse may decay over the course of decades. Their bodies are a rare oasis, and
often create a micro-ecosystem around them.

The Blue Whale, one of Earth’s largest mammals, is still but a mote of dust drifting through the
ocean’s canvas. An incredible weight falling silently into the abyss. Upon the black ocean floor, they
rest. Even now, man has walked on the surface of the moon, yet the ocean remains a final frontier
of understanding. It’s estimated that only approximately five percent of the depths have been
explored and charted by humans. The trenches, although documented, remain on the edge of our
understanding.

As a child, I had a knack for noticing small things. I often imagined squeezing into impossibly small
spaces. When I found myself alone, I sometimes paid close attention to the difference between loud
claps and the soft pattering of my hands. Some of my favorite things were the I-spy books I would
explore. They were filled with intricately arranged collections of trinkets. Each set of pages
contained its own atmosphere, scenery, and colors. My favorites were those with cozy spaces and a
warm ambience. Corners of wooden shelves lit delicately with the glow of a string light. Nearby, the
soft white strands of cotton stuffing. These tiny places were only explorable through my mind’s eye,
set safely within the ink of the pages.


Now, I find myself similarly fascinated with flowers. The rose has come to capture my attention the
most, and I imagine what it must be like to slip between their red petals. What shapes fill this
landscape? What colors could possibly represent those within myself? The fragrance of roses has
come to be associated with many of the strongest human feelings; connotations of love, passion,
romanticism, beauty, sumptuousness. When let go of its own accord, how does their aroma inspire
this reverie?

A Bloom-
The inside of a rose, home to the richest colors.
And as eyes gaze into a bloom
Petals filter sunlight,
They build layers upon each other,
Delicately constructed red tulle pleated on nature’s mannequin
growing dim.
At its core,
darkness surrounded by those yet to unfurl

Even in the open ocean,
Few areas lay permanently dark under the clear water above.
Light can not make its journey that far down,
reach the trenches buried 10,000 meters beneath

Towards its heart, the mind drifts
through the twilight zone, the expanses of the abyss,
into a great crevasse cut into the seabed.
And space between the petals tapers
Becoming darker, thinner, closer
Red, black.
Apparitions stir like the images left behind after you close your eyes


Despite the inhospitable conditions,
the depths are host to their own solitary environment.
An ecosystem teems with life,
full of feelings foreign to daylight

Squirming centipedes touch the traces of limerence on my back
They leave millions of tiny tattooed footprints of unrequited freckles,
crawling their way up
disappearing into my hair

Hands reach up out of their sockets like tubeworms around hydrothermal vents
They girdle my torso
cover my nipples,
make their way to the left side of my ribcage
and covet what they find

Anglers tempt their prey with glowing neon signs
shaped into red lips.
They have stolen from the rainy dive bar on the corner of Main and Gross Avenue

Isopods’ white scales made of fingernails from the bathroom sink
They drag their bodies against the ocean floor,
Pull themselves along the silt,
Leave red scratches behind on skin,
consuming the scraps they find


And in the periphery of my eyes,
Barreleye fish made of human hearts meander.
Their chartreuse eyes look not forward,
but up through the clear dome of their head.
Constantly suspended in search of what is to be bestowed,
Blind to that which lies ahead or behind

Bleached, thorny stems from the garden of a lost lover’s home
form corals splayed out upward.
Their tiny flagellates capture what they can from marine snow.
And starving,
they walk the delicate balance between life and death
hungrily burning your hands
upon the touch of skin

Along a rocky scarp,
a white octopus tends to her eggs.
But a pale knot of veins from a preserved cadaver,
she glides and writhes about.
And her movements look lonely,
weaker each day.
She is dutifully tending to her promises
faith precludes her from drifting astray

Through the dark,
An elusive Vampire Squid makes their ordained appearance
covered in thorns and draped in red vestment.
still and inconspicuous,
I close my eyes


A pressed flower set in a picture frame looks down upon me.
And I long to be more like her, more like you, dear golden calf
A symbol of temperance in midst the pressure
The water ever impending,
The bars ever greater
The love ever ambrosian,
The hunger ever languishing.

And then she is gone,
sailing away,
alone in the heavy water

Surrounded in darkness,
harps reverberate from the distance.
Amid a glen I hear the nymph,
Echo’s disembodied voice calling out.
May her plucked tones be simply the voices within-
Those who’ve become but their desires,
Pure and discarnate

Upon a brine pool,
It is scattered with the petrified remains of eels,
bodies made of human vertebrae now bound by no connective tissue.
Floating on the surface.
The bones held in avaricious memento by toxic waters-
The ossuary of those who have ventured too far.

Looking down, the reflection of a face in the pool enthralls
And I ask,
“Was it of damnation, the hand that cast Narcissus into a flower?”


But what of to release him from the clarion calls-
Of a dark even wolves howl into with their mouths half shut.
Staring into his own eyes,
He sought interminably for silence,
wilted away,
Of mordant limerence possessed.

And it is supposed the 52hz whale is the loneliest.
Yet to be seen,
only heard.
An ephemera.
it belongs to an unclassified species

There is only one answer,
The greatest love lives in the heart of the lonely.

And to doubt but it was Narcissus’s call to Nemesis,
A 52hz prayer to the aspect of Aphrodite
the god his beauty overwhich she governed-

And I understand.

The empty pit too enthralling to break,
The rorschach test too ineffable to voice,
The hunger is too corrosive to stomach.
A great boon bestowed upon him.
The act of divine retribution.

In wake,
A whale has fallen again through the ocean.
Their skin rippled with rose petals as disheveled scales.
Picked at by all,
Ambergris bubbles up out of their flesh and weathered bones
To be coveted by even those in tiny boats on the surface


And, dear goddess
If his fate ought be shared through my eyes
sealed away forever in a rose
my tribulations would be.

I would waft along the fragrant breeze from Elizabeth Park
Sit in every ardent romance in the hands of the young.
Lay unknown in suburban back gardens,
be picked and pulled apart by the hopeful-hearted one petal at a time.

The flowers would be distilled and boiled
Separated from their fragrant oil and soul.


Given to those loved,
Perfuming those wishing to be,
Decorating the spaces of those who have past,
And whispering warily to those who fantasize
about tiny spaces.

It Withers-
Indian attar is a traditional preparation of perfume – attar being the Arabic word for fragrance. They can consist of many different components, from jasmine to luxurious blends of spices, and perhaps most famously, rose. Rose attar is also known as ruh gulab. Of Arabic etymology, the word “ruh” roughly means soul, spirit, essence, or vital life element. “Gulab” likewise translates to rose. The tradition of distilling attar in Kannauj stems back at least 400 years, but today, this city is home to some of the last-standing attar distilleries.

There, workers use traditional methods to create attar. They begin by filling large copper pots with the correct proportions of water and other aromatic ingredients. In the case of rose attar, the pots are filled with freshly harvested rose petals, sealed with clay and cotton, then carefully tended to ensure the correct temperature. Through steam distillation, the floral essence is condensed along the length of a long bamboo pipe and collected. The names ruh gulab and rose attar both refer to this same product. After this first process, the once brightly colored petals are usually muted or gray in appearance. However, the attar may be distilled multiple times before it reaches the final desired concentration. After all this, the precious, labor-intensive product is finally bottled and sold.
If you were to reach through the walls of my chest
Fingers carefully slip between the slats of my ribs like rain through a storm drain
And pull out what you find,
Your hands would be not covered in blood


Held in them, it is reminiscent of red velvet and tar
Flutters like a sleeping bird
Feels like a knot of tapestries left out in the rain
To ring it out between your palms,
A fragrant oil would cover your hands and drip down as water from a washcloth

In one respect, I conduct the rites of my past.
In another, I feel whispers of the seasons to come and go

It is not about avoiding feeling pain, nor staying outside to harden your skin
It’s about laying languid in the fields of the spring
and weathering the cold in the shelter of the winter

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