Flower Remember Year^
Santa Fe NM . 26Feb - 01Mar 2019

by Nuttaphol Ma

I’ve been living with amnesia for most of my life.  My recollection of being able to read and write in my birth language began eroding into my subconscious the day we immigrated to the United States.  I was too young to hold on.  Little by little, I began to forget no matter how hard I tried.  A part of my identity drifted into the sea.  I would swim into the darkness hoping to grasp what was slipping away.  At the end of my every attempts, I would sink deeper under water.  I tried to speak but one one could hear what I had to say.  I have since learned to coexist with not being able to recall parts of my memories.
[03Nov2012] Los Angeles:  I had invited my dear friend Baptiste to the LA Philharmonic performance - playing Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony.  Before the performance started, he’d asked me how to write the number ‘6’ in Thai.  The question surfaced deep wounds that require time to heal.  I was not afraid of my vulnerabilities and simply answered that I could not recall.  The house light dimmed.  The performance started before I had a chance to share my story.  Weeks passed, I received a handcrafted thank you note from Baptiste.  The surface was primed with what appeared to be soil.  On it was the number ‘6’ written in Thai.  I was deeply touched by his intent.  I texted Baptiste to thank him for the lovely card and inquired about the surface that grounded his marks.  He shared that he’d collected the soil from El Santuario de Chimayo in New Mexico for it is believed to contain healing qualities to those who touch it.
[03Apr - 08Apr 2013] Journey to Santa Fe / Chimayo via train from LAX Union Station to ABQ Station and back:  My father’s health began to weaken.  Little by little, his knees began to give out on him.  He occasionally lost his balance and fell.  This cycle became more and more frequent prior to him being admitted to a nursing home in 2014.  He was more forgetful.  It saddened me to live through this sudden change.  Baptiste’s introduction to the soil from Chimayo was timely.  It coincided with my father’s diminishing health.  
I thought about this tree that once lived at my parent’s backyard.  This plant blossomed flowers we called “dawg-jam-bee” which loosely translated to “flower remember year.”  Dawg-jam-bee is everywhere in Thailand.  Its evocative scent awakens our senses of home.  It transports us to a place of comfort, a place of familiarity.  I recalled my father’s daily ritual with the tree.  Every morning, he would clip flowers from this tree to make offerings to our ancestors. Unfortunately, when my parents extended the house, the tree was cut down.  I was sad.  I’m sure my father dearly missed the tree as well.  The intent of my pilgrimage to Chimayo was to collect the soil, to transfer its healing qualities into a mixture of other soil, namely my compost at the time and store purchased soil.  The alchemy of intermixing these soils grounded my intent to replant the tree that once lived at my parents’ backyard.
On 05Apr2013, I arrived at Chimayo.  This day coincided with the Chinese grave sweeping day, 清明節.  On this day, my family and I would make offerings to our ancestors.  I had fired an urn and carried it with me on my journey.  The urn was to be used to collect the sacred soil from Chimayo.  People travelled here to pay their respect to the site.  Some made wishes.  Others left artifacts remembering loved ones.  They were scattered throughout - on fences, walls and the grounds.  Next to the main monastery was a small room with a hole dug below the ground.  It was filled with earth.  I proceeded to transfer part of the soil into the urn.  I rung a prayer bowl nine times to offer my gratitude for the soil and for those who have passed on.  I brought other artifacts with me in addition to the urn.  They included my father’s shirt, my shorts that I once wore when I was little boy whilst living in my mother country.  I’ve dearly held onto this pair of shorts as it has become my sole physical evidence of where I come from.  I also brought a yellow scarf that cushioned the urn. 

There rested a young tree with budding flowers peeking into spring.  Behind this tree was a dying one; hollowed out.  They both aligned themselves on the central axis of El Santuario de Chimayo; vertically dissecting the main monastery and the wall of the dead.  It was here, at the base of the young tree, that I placed my father’s shirt, my childhood shorts and the scarf under the urn that housed the sacred soil.  I lit nine incense, rung a prayer bowl nine times.  I sat.  I watched the ashes from the incense flurried over the soil and onto my father’s shirt.  
The incense took her last breath.  A butterfly danced around a nearby tree.  I collected all the artifacts; leaving only ashes of time at the base of a blossoming tree.
Upon my return to Los Angeles, it took me another year to plant the tree that once lived at my parents’ backyard.  I chose to plant it on my father’s birthday in July of 2014.  By this time, he was already under the care at a nursing home.  His health continued to diminish.  A beautiful moment happened in November of the same year, the tree took root and blossomed its first flower.  It was then my turn to clip the flower.  I subsequently brought it to the hospital as an offering to papa.  The tree lasted another two and half years before it died.  A few months after, my father passed on in January of 2017.

The essence of what I’ve shared here is housed in an essay film entitled “Flower Remember Year”.  The film circled around serendipitous conversations that had led me to Chimayo.  It chronicled my ritual.  Since its completion in 2014, it took me another four years to find a respectful way to contextualized the work.  In autumn of 2018, I was invited to respond to a site at Burnside Farm - an artist run space in Detroit Michigan.  Upon visiting the site, I was deeply touched by the presence of an old maple tree that anchored the grounds. I’ve since learned that the tree centers the Burnside community.  It was there that I began my work of translating a personal ritual, like the one undertook in the film, to a communal one which cultivated a shared experience with others.  As in the case of Burnside Farm, I screened the film to contextualize my intention of leading a collective offering to the tree by wrapping a hand-dyed fabric around it to honor the spirit that resides within the tree.  The collective performance entitled “Remember Our Ancestral Tree” concluded with a communal meal that I’d prepared to honor the tree, the ancestors of our land and our personal ancestors.

I cannot think of any other way to show the film but to accompany it with a collective ritual as the one that took place at Burnside Farm.  I look forward to share this film and to embark on this communal ritual at other sites to come.

Still image from essay film entitled “Flower Remember Year” (2014)

Storytelling + Film screeing of “Flower Remember Year” @ Burnside Farm (2018) - photo by Kate Daughdrill

Photo collage of image from essay film + photo of maple tree overlooking Burnshide Farm (2018)