This entry is part 15 of 29 in the series Wildflower Poems


Mayapple by Jennifer Schlick
Mayapple by Jennifer Schlick (click to see larger)

Podophyllum peltatum

I’m trying to get lost
somewhere south along the mountain
when I break through a tangle
of fox grapes & stop short:

an insurgent sea of mayapples
bobs in the breeze, a minature forest.
I remember the stories I’ve heard
about human-shaped roots

& how they’ve yielded a new
weapon against cancer.
I think of them crowded together
in the stoney dark.

We who eulogize private virtue
& small acts of kindness,
have we forgotten the glory
of the grand gesture? I stand

as immobile as that line of tanks
at the Gate of Heavenly Peace,
unable to go farther without
crushing one or two.

Their parasols make a brave show,
but they keep their faces down
& their yellow focus on the fruit
they know will come, if only for a few—

fruit that may or may not be digestible,
flowers that may or may not self-pollinate,
depending on the encampment,
& insects that may or may not visit,

since the mayapples offer
neither nectar nor desirable pollen,
& seem to persist because a few bees bumble
& forget where they are.

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8 Replies to “Mayapple”

    1. “Silent, upon a peak in Darien”? Or is that another poem? (I am so poorly educated.) Actually I have been reading Neruda’s Art of Birds, so that’s probably the influence here — although with his wondrous poems ringing in my ears, I can’t help but be dissatisfied with this!

    1. Cool! Yeah, the cancer treatment is pretty impressive. They’re using a semi-synthetic derivative of mayapple root to treat at least two kinds of cancer, testicular and small-cell lung cancer.

      I have access to Bioabstracts BTW, so if you ever need the text of a journal article, let me know.

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