Legerdemain

leaf hand

I was dealt a singular hand, & learned
to do tricks with the light:
sun sugar, bittering
at an insect’s approach.
I donned a conjurer’s robe of air plants.
Below ground I have discovered
the prosthetic tooth of a glacier,
round & granitic, & I hold it
like hard candy in my mind,
that ultimate rope trick of rootlets
& mycorrhizal hyphae
that never quite touch.
__________

In response to the Read Write Poem prompt, “be a tree.” Other responses are here.

(UPDATE) Hyphae, also called mycelia, are the “roots” of fungi; mycorrhizal means they are symbiotic with plants. See here:

In the ectomycorrhizal symbiosis between fungi and trees, the fungus completely ensheaths the tree roots and takes over water and mineral nutrient supply, while the plant supplies photosynthate. Recent work has focussed on gene expression in the two partners, on the effects of global change and nitrogen deposition rate on the symbiosis, and on the role of mycorrhizal fungi in connecting individual plants to form a ‘wood-wide web’.

17 Comments


  1. In 1993 Steve Martin did a rope trick
    Fulfilling a prophecy by The Great Swahini
    After Aping ‘Goofy’ on the tonight show
    Carson turned to bizarre 1973 Steve Martin:
    “Eventually in your comedy you’ll use everything (even your teenage magic tricks)”

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  2. well i am definitely going to have to keep a dictionary handy if i am going to read your stuff… wow… i cant even comment intelligently as i have no idea what mycorrhizal hyphae means…..

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  3. Ohhhh, you went deep for this. (Sorry.)

    Beautiful to talk about something so little understood. I’ve read Linda Bierds lately. Do you like her? Her mix of science and wonderful thoughts, poetrically executed? You should. :-)

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  4. Evan – Steve Martin is a consummate performer. I say that not only because he’s funny and a good actor, but also because he plays a mean banjo. Didn’t know about the rope trick.

    paisley – Sorry. I added an explanatory note.

    …deb – Yes, I persist in trying to write accessible nature-nerd poetry (though judging by paisley’s comment, with mixed results). Haven’t heard of Linda Bierds, though, I’m afraid. Sounds like someone I should read.

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  5. Keep persisting. NNP a favorite of mine.

    I read Bierd’s First Hand. It is more about scientists understanding of nature – or how they come to understand it – than nature without the human interaction, but it is wonderful. I understand she has been asked to write about the effects on global warming and will be going to Venice to immerse herself in the city and then will write her book. Anyway, I like it.

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  6. The Western fence line between science and art inhibits successful encounters between the two. This neat little poem breaches the barrier. A good one, Dave.

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  7. Excellent this, I particularly like ‘bittering / at an insect’s approach’. The ending too is great, I’d never though of mycorrhizal hyphae as a rope trick before but the comparison certainly works.

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  8. Love the “conjurer’s robe” and “sun sugar.” Thanks for the explanation, too; it helped me understand the poem better.

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  9. Below ground I have discovered
    the prosthetic tooth of a glacier,
    round & granitic, & I hold it
    like hard candy in my mind

    wow. loved those lines.
    super poem, dave.

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  10. …deb – Wow, I’ve just been reading the reviews of Linda Bierds’ poetry at Amazon and wondering why I haven’t run across it before. I’ve often though about trying to become that sort of poet; very glad to hear someone’s already managing to pull it off.

    Dick – Glad you think so; thanks.

    CGP – The “bittering…” part was a later edit, after I rejected “one-handed applause” as trite and tangential. The ability of trees to change the chemical composition of their leaves at a moment’s notice – often after signals received from neighbors through the “wood-wide web” – is much more miraculous, I thought.

    Linda – Good, I’m glad that helped. Thanks for commenting.

    bev – Thanks! We’re a little ways south of the last glacial ice sheet here, of course, so the tree in this poem is more likely to be from your neck of the woods than ours.

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  11. Did you mean something specific by “sun-sugar”, or were you just riffing on photosynthesis in general?

    I was dealt a singular hand,

    Umm… philodendron?

    I think fungal mycelia are cool… there are underground fungal masses in China that are apparently the largest single living things anywhere, stretching for miles under the landscape. (China also features occasional “slime molds” [moving blobs of coalesced bacteria] the size of a small dog….)

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  12. Photosynthesis in general, yes. The “hand” is a hand of cards — all the leaves on a tree.

    I had a post on slimemolds a while back: here.

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  13. Hmmm, I don’t know how I missed this one. Lazy blogger.

    The mixture of science and magic draws me right in. I like how you get inside of nature and offer the reader a unique perspective.

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  14. yes, I read it after I wrote mine on the skeleton provided.(thanks, great skeleton, btw.)
    the imagery is great and it holds all the mistery and magic of “wild life” for this city girl that I am.
    I avoid growing plants for fear that I will kill them – I feel so foreign and clumsy around them. Still your poem made me feel almost as I was the tree…

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  15. christine – Thanks. I’m not sure it’s so much a matter of deliberately mixing science and magic as forgetting that a difference exists.

    Annamari – I’m glad you liked the original, and that it still speaks to someone so urban.

    (For archival purposes, the “skeleton” to which Annamari refers was posted in the comments here, and links to the responses may be found here.)

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