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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