Long after the yellow funfair tent
with its sudden shower of pollen
& its sweet prize has been packed away,
after the bees have gone
in search of other diversions
& the forest has grown dark & thick,
the violet hosts a quieter, stranger sideshow:
the cleistogamous flower, a tent
that never opens & admits nobody.
Like a Wall Street investment firm
writing I.O.U.s to itself, it has
all the magic it needs
within its green inviolate room.
We may infer the success of its transactions
only from its conversion
into a new instrument,
with contents set for future release—
a hedge against all the vagaries
of spring & commerce.
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.
Because the root is round
& no bigger than a nut
it is not worth its weight in gold,
though still prized as medicine.
Had it limbs like a man
we might sing out its name— little brother ‘sang! Instead,
we step over its perfect clouds,
oblivious to the mystery
of its androdioeciousness,
why some umbels should be all male
& others hermaphroditic,
how that little knot of a root
unties itself from year to year:
the flower fading to pink
shrinks & shrivels with the rest
of the above-ground parts, & when
it re-sprouts the following spring,
it’s no longer the same sex—
how it got that way
& why it persists, dwarf,
unmaker of aches.
The red juice of its root
has nothing to do with love
& everything with war, caustic enough
to leave permanent scars on the skin,
burn out cancer, repel insects,
& once to give Indian warriors
their fabled hue. But it isn’t just
the blood-red color;
see how the anthers circle
a pale heart. How the tender
young plant embraces itself
like a bat with its one green wing.
Dig up a bloodroot & watch a tremor
travel through the patch,
connected by something
far thicker than water.
& coarsely toothed,
they say about its leaves,
as if describing some
barbarian horde. Even
the rhizomes sport tooth-
like projections, a root
said to be peppery,
good raw or boiled,
pickled or fermented
in short, a toothsome thing.
The mordellid beetle knows
nothing of this,
perched on a petal’s lip,
drawn in by a fragrance
like nothing from any fetid
snaggle of teeth.
The so-called water carpet
forms a creeping mat
over soggy, springy ground,
its flowers so tiny & indistinct
as almost to escape notice,
lacking petals, greenish
except for the red dots
of anthers & the brown
verge of its own
sweet pool for some
This blue has nothing to do
with sky or any bluebird
any sea. You could dye
your lips this color
if you wanted to look like
the healthiest corpse alive. (But the roots—it’s the roots
they use for… you know.)
Blue as the past
tense of blow:
flowering past, it leaches
from the glabrous leaves
only to resurface months later
in the berries
bluer than a blue howl. (What about the roots?)
The maturing seeds rupture the ovary, Alien-style, & loose themselves
upon the world: a toxic
substitute for coffee.
Choose your medicine. (Cramps, fits, & hysterics.
Inflammations of the womb.)