The gladioli refuse to bloom, indistinguishable from the volunteer corn stalks that sprouted after squirrels and doves threw corn from the porch feeders. I bought these gladioli greedily; the Westwinds Nursery was going out of business, and it was the final days, everything must go, so I took them—every single bulb they had in stock.

At my previous house, the gladioli were raucous. Violet, scarlet, coral. Petals like fairy skirts. Once, I thought I was taking a picture of flowers, but when I later opened the picture on a computer screen realized that it was a picture of a female Anna’s hummingbird, perched on the unopened greenery above pale pink blossoms. Life is like that. We intend to point the camera at one thing, capture it, but somehow it turns out to be another thing entirely.

Years ago, another lifetime, but only three blocks away, my then-husband asked me to attach a photo to an email. He was a carpenter, not good with computers. It was a picture of him wearing glasses, reading a book, looking studious. That may be why he told me he was sending it as a joke to a friend. I attached the photo to the email. He clicked “send.”

Months later, I learned he and another woman had sent their pictures to a past-life regression therapist so she could tell them who they were in a past life, that they belonged together, that I was just in the background, like the flowers.

Sometimes I think about that woman, selling past-life readings on eBay and wonder if she sells the same stories over and over, if she constructs a different story for each request she receives, if something about each picture, each message influences what she writes.

When I was buying the bulbs, the girl managing the nursery and I talked about how impractical grass lawns are in the Oregon desert, about all the other options we have available. Xeriscaping, clover, yarrow. When she said, “Yarrow,” I shared, “If my son had been a girl, his name would have been yarrow.”

“Yarrow is an amazing plant. It even survives herds of hundreds of elk trampling it every spring.” She smiled as she rolled the gladioli bulbs into a paper bag, punched the amount of my purchase into the cash register. We talked about lawns being traditional, how hard it is to get people to let go of the green grass lawn stereotype. “Grow clover!” she jokingly shouted at my husband, my third one, the one in my new life three blocks away from that other life. “What could it hurt?” He laughed at us, geeking out over plants.

When we got into the car, he said, “That was strange. Like watching you talk to yourself. Dizzying really.”

And I thought about other selves. Past lives. My own other life many years ago but just three blocks away. Who my son would be if he were Yarrow. Who any of us are. What could be discovered at any random moment.

Shaindel Beers is the author of three full-length poetry collections, A Brief History of Time (2009) and The Children’s War and Other Poems (2013), both from Salt Publishing, and Secure Your Own Mask (2018), from White Pine Press. She teaches at Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton, Oregon, and serves as Poetry Editor of Contrary Magazine. Learn more at .

Photo by Amy Selwyn