Yucca

yucca in snow

Aboveground, I am all blade,
shedding filaments to keep
my edges keen. I can go months
& months without water.
My connections to this sand-
stone ridge run deep.

But I don’t know why when I blossom,
nothing happens. My nights
have never turned incandescent
at the touch of fabled wings.
My panicle is a pale flag
that no one ever salutes.

This couldn’t be exile, could it?
There’s desert enough here
for those who wait.
All through the dry season,
my flower stalk’s bony shadow
creeps over the smooth white drifts.
__________

Written in response to Read Write Poem’s Lenten prompt. Links to the other responses are here.

20 Comments


  1. Panicle. What a brilliant word. Have you used it before? I had to look it up anyway.

    Wonderful.

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  2. first i must say i too was drawn to the whole abraham /issac sacrifice thing… it is a metaphor in my life for the way my parents have chosen the jehovahs’ witnesses over and above myself and my two siblings in everything… i just didn’t feel like expressing the trauma all of that invoked … but i am rethinking it now that i have read this…….

    the verse you shared was perfect… how absurd to find ones self in a permanent state of “absolution” so all encompassing even beauty is over looked……

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  3. rr – Nope, never used it before. I was going to go with the more general “inflorescence,” but was reminded of “panicle” while trying to figure out the likely species of yucca in the photo, and instantly felt it was the better word here.

    CGP – Gardeners are cruel, aren’t they?

    paisley – I’m interested that you responded to my reference to the binding of Isaac in the RWP link, which I regretted as an irrelevant aside right after I posted it. But it is a timeless koan with no clear-cut answer, I think. Kierkegaard and Buber both tied themselves in knots over it.

    There have been several outstanding poems submitted for this prompt so far, but the one I find the most interesting for religious and philosophical reasons is chicklegirl’s suckling.

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  4. “above ground i am all blade” … and then the word, later, “exile.” the feeling i got from this piece was “warrior.” there’s an exterior toughness masking some self-doubt and wonder. i felt such a strong connection to the personality in it that i think even without the picture — and even without the title to reveal it’s about a literal yucca plant — it would work. i love it!

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  5. Thanks. I agree, the picture isn’t necessary, except in the sense that it prompted (along with RWP) the poem. I would want to keep the title. But I was uncertain whether I should also include more specific information about yucca-yucca moth mutualism, which may not be known to everybody. Your comment suggests that it works fine on a more general level. Thanks for stopping by.

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  6. Thanks for a wonderful, heart-stopping poem, Dave. Gardeners are indeed cruel… but necessary in this world of man-made barrenness. As a hopeless gardener and too-literal naturalist, I’d add that yuccas here explode into fruit, but those “fabled wings” and other relations seem to frustrate the impulse to viable seed. Enough get by, the species lives on.

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  7. Here in NW Iowa we have a lot of yucca plants that are native to the loess hills. The blossoms are incredible. I feel sad for the lonely blossomless one in the foto.

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  8. The dearth of exile is a desert existence — a place only God and the extremities of nature visit. Lonely place but still how it thrives. Is a garden nonetheless.

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  9. @carolee, I so resonate with the “warrior” title. There is an innocence to this warrior stance. I loved, “there’s an exterior toughness masking some self-doubt and wonder.”

    This couldn’t be exile, could it?
    There’s desert enough here
    for those who wait.
    All through the dry season,
    my flower stalk’s bony shadow
    creeps over the smooth white drifts.

    This paragraph to me is what happens if the boy in the pic is never able to realize his dreams, or be himself, and the halting way in which one might discover failure. But the failure is ultimately externally defined. And the last sentence is hopeful, if not quite redemptive. In the last line the man-child yucca does realize the the impact he has made is not externally defined or made real by others. And though the journey didn’t turn out as he expected, his life has indeed made a difference.

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  10. Sally – The most lyrical description of the relationship I’ve read was Chris Clarke’s essay in the Insecta issue of qarrtsiluni, which focused specifically on the Joshua tree (a type of yucca, of course): Yucca Moths.

    Fred – Of course yuccas do flower here, they just don’t set seed. From what I could gather on the web, I think this cultivar is most likely a species native to the southeast, where it was spread around by the Indians who grew it for fiber (those filaments) and soap (the roots).

    brendanblue – sometimes I think deserts make the best natural gardens: hardly anything looks like a weed! Well, except for all the invasive grasses and thistles.

    Shai – Thanks for the interesting exegesis. I think it shows that by focusing on concrete particulars, a poem can often gain more resonance than if it tries to remain non-commital enough to serve as an extended metaphor. The seeds of the universal germinate in the particular, or something like that.

    It seems to me that the image of a plant removed from its native ecological milieu and turned into what ecologists call an exotic is not only an important subject in its own right, but rich with lessons for human beings as well. Plants that — unlike yuccas in the northeast U.S. — are able to reproduce effectively in their new environments so often become horribly invasive, crowding out the natives, because they are liberated from all the checks and balances of their own native environment. But eventually, maybe in a hundred years, those diseases and insect predators will catch up with them, and they’ll start acting more like natives in their new land. (Of course, they may have driven several rare species to extinction by then.)

    (You had actually mixed blockquote and link tags in your first comment.)

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  11. Thanks for stopping by. I do find dramatic monologues liberating to write.

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  12. I really respond to the ecological theme here. Also the fact that the yucca can’t reproduce because the moth hasn’t followed it (yet)– nice metaphor for some aspects of the immigrant experience.

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  13. Beautiful language to describe a beautiful – and forgotten, it seems to me – plant.

    I like your comments allusions to mythical men of the “desert”.

    I’m also intrigued by your knowledge of yucca and where you found them in snow. (?. I grew up in the Mohave desert and didn’t expect you and your environs would know them. Ah, I finally read your comment responses. I understand. Yikes.)

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  14. Glad you liked the poem. There are a lot of different species of yucca – Spanish bayonet, for example, is a yucca.

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  15. Yes. Invasives. They are considered as much a threat to native species – if not more – as is habitat destruction.

    In Portland we have English ivy and holly and certain clematis as well as others. I can’t imagine painting a lovely portrait of them. You’re kinder than me.

    I read Chris’ s piece on the yucca moth. Intriguing. Beautiful. I appreciate the synergy between your two pieces.

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