A Nostos

by Ethan Seavey

The dandelion is thousands of miles from home. It has been in America learning about the world beyond and perhaps it wants to return. It has lived thousands of sad lives. Finally after 300 years, a seed clings to an old man’s jacket as he boards a plane, and happens to land in a small patch of dirt right by the Charles de Gaulle airport; the dandelion is welcomed home graciously, and they share the stories of what has happened in its absence. They notice little differences to him. He has mutated slightly; the increased sun in America has made his petals more yellow; the lawn mowers have made him shorter; the pesticides have made him stronger. They don’t talk to him about the sun or the lawn mowers or the pesticides, though. They talk about their shared home in France. 

Tu me manques. The French have a different construction to mean “I miss you,” which more directly translates to “you are missing from me.” it’s weaker in the sense that the I is doing nothing but feeling unfulfilled in the person’s absence. English implies an active agony; French implies a passive fractured self. I think before coming abroad that I would’ve said English is more accurate to the idea of missing someone. But now I’ve lived in Paris while the man I love lived in Tel Aviv and my family lived in Chicago and Denver and LA and I find the truth is somewhere in the middle, closer to the French side. I miss /you/ are missing from me. Day to day, it’s not active. Missing lies dormant in your body and makes the day a little darker, a little colder. It makes you feel guilty for letting the pain be so tiny, so unnoticeable. But it also rushes in and drowns you some days and you feel a longing for melodrama, which is never satisfied with a text or a phone call.

The dandelion has many names. Bitterwort, likely for its bitter-tasting leaves. Blow-ball is for its puffball, also known as its clock, which is often subjected to being stripped by the wind rushing out of a human mouth. Cankerwort, for three possible reasons, based on your interpretation of “canker:” if you are optimistic it means a type of wild rose; if you are pessimistic it is a disease facing plants, horses, and birds; if you are realistic it means anything which destroys or corrupts. Clockflower because, as I’ve just mentioned, the puffballs are called clocks. Common dandelion because it is common. Irish daisy because the person who chose the name was confused about the flower’s origin, which is much further East. Lion’s tooth comes from the French dent de lion, and compares the sawtooth leaves to the mouth of the lion; the word “dandelion” comes from a mutation of this phrase. Piss-in-bed comes from the French as well, who called it “pissinlit,” referring to the fact that it is a diuretic. Pissinlit: see piss-in-bed. Priest’s crown is a reference to the flower after it has dropped its yellow leaves and its white seeds, and is left with a bald, wrinkled head. Puffball, after the eloquent “clock” of the dandelion. Swine’s snout as a reference to the beginning stage of the flower, when its bud is tall and pointed, and the very tips of the yellow petals are bursting through the green bud’s lips. Telltime, because legend declares that number of seconds it takes to blow the seeds off the priest’s head is the same as the hour of the day. Yellow gowan, as gowan is a Scottish word for a little field flower. Of course these names are in alphabetical order but dandelions don’t use the alphabet, so they’d likely order them in accordance with their life cycle: Swine’s snout to yellow gowan to puffball or blow-ball or clock flower or telltime to the last stage, the priest’s crown. Its seeds then return back to a swine’s snout and the order starts again. The dandelion always considers itself bitter and common and the tooth of a lion and a diuretic and a canker, meaning destroyer of worlds, meaning vicious conqueror.

When the sun is in hiding and the wind is cold, the tourists leave Paris and the only people left are the Parisians. They are cold and tired. They don’t stop to look at the antique books along the Seine. They don’t take notice of the cityscapes in brilliant oil that the vendor sells. They go to work and when the Tour Eiffel appears over the top of a building, they don’t gasp. They eat at their three favorite cafes, after having apéritifs at the quiet one down the street which sells a Spritz for six euros. They buy African fruit from a street vendor and they buy antique East Asian art from a white man at an outdoor flea market. They talk about the next vacation they’ll take, the train to Switzerland, the plane to Morocco. 

The dandelion is unaware that it is the product of hundreds of years of humans colonizing each other. It might not even remember that hundreds of years ago, it was brought over as medicine and food. People had brought it across the ocean because they couldn’t live without it. It was on the Mayflower. It doesn’t play well with other flowers. Unlike other weeds this one spreads its seeds even after a human has plucked it. It can re-root in the soil or its flower can go to seed as it dies of dehydration. It quickly took over the country. As it spread across fields and stole the sun, it eventually encountered the horned dandelion. They couldn’t believe their eyes. The horned dandelion asked what the other was called. The common dandelion said that it was so common it didn’t have a name.  The horned dandelion watched the common continue to spread across the country, far beyond the rocky alpine slopes of its home. The horned dandelion called the common dandelion names. It called it brash and cowardly and destructive and evil. The common dandelion responded by cutting it out of the dandelion family. It said the other was a sunflower. And it happily choked the sunflower out after saying so.

When the sun comes out and the wind dies down, the Parisians realize they never stopped to catch their breath and now it is too late. The tourists come by plane and by train. They speak English and some German and some Spanish and very little French. They fill the museums. They stop at the booths along the Seine and block the Parisian’s path to work. They walk in impenetrable packs in the Marais and they scream when they get pickpocketed in Montmartre. They fill the favorite cafés, so the Parisian has a summer café which is much worse but it’s off the busy streets and no tourists sit in those tattered wicker chairs.  The Parisian stays far away from the area around the Louvre, and the Champs-Elysées, and Île de la Cité. The Parisian’s favorite park is a tiny patch of grass compared to the grandiose Jardin du Luxembourg or Jardin des Tuileries, which are now filled with people who will ask in English for the Parisian to take a photo of their group. 

The common dandelion makes a delicious salad. Each part of it is edible. You may use use the long, slightly rubbery stems and tie them together to make a flower crown. You may rub the yellow flower against the back of your hand and dye your skin. It can be made into a tea. Its flower can be made into a wine. Dandelion root acts as a coffee substitute in the sense that it makes humans shit. Over the course of human history, it has been used to remedy fevers, boils, upset stomachs, lactation issues, kidney disease and more, likely to varying success. They don’t take well to bouquets like other wildflowers, but their puffballs can be preserved with a bit of hairspray and saved on a shelf or as earrings. You can infuse the flavor of its flowers into honeys and vinegars and syrups. You can ask the universe for any one thing before blowing the seeds of the puffball into the wind, or you can kick them with your tiny cleats while you stand in the outfield of a tee-ball game. The dandelion is an incredible barometer: its flower closes up when rain is approaching and it is wide open when the sun will shine all day. It will tell you if you are loved by someone, based on whether all the seeds blow off in one blow or not—but it will not tell you it is who loves you, or how missing is supposed to feel, or how strongly you have been missed by others. It cannot tell you whether Paris will miss you when you leave in two days. It cannot tell you how you have changed in the past year and it cannot tell you how the world has changed without you while you’ve been taking root abroad. It cannot tell if you will stand out like a French dandelion, tall and with muted colors, amongst short and bright American flowers; or if you will blend in as you always did, as if nothing has changed. 

The Parisian will take you to the local’s favorite park. They will stretch upon the grass. The buildings surrounding the garden on all sides block out the noise of the city. They se font bronzer under the hot sun. They remark on how hard it is to find a lovely park in Paris where you only hear people speaking French. There are better parks in Paris but this one is the best. Its flowers are wilting as the seasons change. Last week the tulips looked full and ripe, but this week they are weeping. Adults play boules with large silver balls and children drop their backpacks by a tree to do cartwheels. Dogs are kept close to an old Parisian’s bench and they don’t acknowledge you as you walk by. There are patches of dirt where there should be grass. Patches of little daisies grow around the Parisian’s picnic blanket. One single dandelion grows in the middle of them. The Parisian grabs the base of it with the tip of her blush-pink fingernails and plucks the whole root right out of the dirt.