Noreen Ocampo’s contest winning micro-chap Not Flowers is a striking bouquet of sixteen exquisite poems swaying on the winds of quotidian magic. This collection came to me as a breath of fresh air, amidst “trees whispering in forbidden corners of the wood,” “meadow of neon dandelions,” “rickety mountain roads,” and “cherry blossoms & afternoon light,” this collection offers you quiet space to reflect on all that life has to bestow. The simple beauty of the ordinary that comes with being alive and human; to plant and gift flowers, or buy yourself “not-flowers”. It reframes the importance of little moments of laughter and fleeting friendships, of buying yourself the last bag of sour gummy bears, and making sandwiches.
Ocampo’s poems are airbrushed with childhood nostalgia and the romance of faded memories that plead us to hold them, not rigid, but with the fragility of dried flowers. They resonate with those certain specific memories most of us have of places and food and faint Sunday morning scenes and quarrels when love was not yet recognizable or marvelous because it was easy and as natural as breathing or eating together: “I see my mother, sitting at the old family computer, sunshine laughing through the blinds.”
Poems like “Peachtree,” “fool’s gold,” “Dear,” and “Lullabies” are completely honest in their rendering of the ephemeral innocence & exuberance of childhood & young love, and just so as in life, before we may brace for it we are met with the undesirable reality of “silent sudden goodbyes,” that “I can never return to these places” and “the pretend goodbyes, the congratulations that never feel quite right.”
Yes, there is sorrow & unfamiliarity accompanying growth but Ocampo shows us that if you are “translating people’s faces with kindness” and you “buy the not-flowers” there might yet be hope & softness and a “sunny place to survive” for you in the world. This is precisely why this collection is to be treasured, it is a gentle gift of hope and optimism in dire times.
One of my favorites in the book is “crane game,” dreamlike & uniquely fantastical this prose poem evokes feelings of belonging towards a makeshift home, of being surrounded by softness & the fluff of tenderness accepted warmly, as Ocampo says:“softness would be the most desirable way to lack.” It paints the shared dream of a friendly place to rest and be held with kindness before the next tumble or goodbye:“& if the time really came, we would celebrate that our friend was going home to someone with steady hands & conviction.”
Ocampo takes us on a personal yet relatable journey where everlasting Limonium stands for fondness & remembrance, for the odd everyday magic of sibling intimacy in “Kitchen,” and “how I became indebted to a fourteen year old” in which she says “I taught him how to smile at sriracha despite our sweet toothed ancestry and there are things we can’t unlearn but I want him to know what love looks like.”
And she shows us how to extend yellow roses in friendly gestures, love pouring out of every sun-kissed petal and word: “when we were softer, you slipped your hand into my hands whenever someone else was driving.” Then at the delicate joyous pink touch of Dianthus we experience hopefulness, softness and ambition, and that is the note she leaves us on.
“I cannot believe
How happy I am. I believe how happy I am
I fall asleep so easily & even in every dream I survive.”