This entry is part 22 of 29 in the series Wildflower Poems


Jack-in-the-Pulpit by Jennifer Schlick
Jack-in-the-Pulpit by Jennifer Schlick (click to see larger)

Arisaema triphyllum

This is no pulpit but a pit,
almost a gullet, clogged
with corpses of those that wouldn’t fit
through the exit at the base of the spathe.
It generates its own heat
& a faint scent said to resemble rot
or stagnant water,
attracting fungus gnats
to the minute flowers on the spadix,
which might be male this year
& female or unisex the next.
What church could stomach
such license in the pulpit?
But then we learn how the raw
corm burns, blistering the throat,
its raphide needles causing
agonies in the gut. Only drying
or a slow roast can tame its heat.
This is pepper turnip,
dragon root, devil’s ear.
This is Jack & the candlestick together,
fire & brimstone & the unclean lip.

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8 Replies to “Jack-in-the-Pulpit”

  1. Oh yes. Yes. YES!!! Bravo. This one rocks! Dave in sinister, sardonic mode. I like this a lot. Jack-in-the-Pulpit is such a great title that I may have to steal it. Tricky however to take my dog and paint him in a pulpit, but I could probably manage
    This is Jack & the candlestick together’
    … so it may be I’ll steal that one instead. With a credit, of course, to the poet!

    1. Welcome to it! Yeah, it was impossible to escape the pull of the common name for this plant. Originally I thought I’d focus on the ability of any given plant to change sex year by year, as growing conditions vary, but as with that poem about skunk cabbage — another arum — that I did for our bestiary series, there was just so much more to it. And it all came back to that image of the old-fashioned pulpit.

      By the way, I’m not opposed in principle to some, uh, cross-pollination between the series. That is, if you want to illustrate and include this or other poems from the wildflower series in the book form of the bestiary, that would be fine.

    1. Thanks — good to hear! This is one of those poems where I didn’t actually get “inspired” until I was about 3/4ths of the way through the writing process.

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