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A dandelion’s fruiting head
a jeweled amphora.
Spinach tissue’s blue
mosaic, too beautiful to eat.
Stomata dot the skin of trillium
like points on a map, what’s laid bare
by a microscope: a pine needle’s thirst
seen at the infection site where
brown fungus burrows
through a season’s drought.
For now, the lobed algae live on,
traveling in pairs,
and pollen grains gather on anthers.
Tucked inside the feathers
of whistling ducks,
diatoms gorge on sunlight.

Click here to read Jennifer Markell on the origin of the poem.


Jennifer Markell:

Several months ago I was looking at photographs of plant life viewed up close through a microscope. Another world opened up, recalling one of the wonders of childhood– looking at a drop of pond water under a microscope and seeing life appear. The joy of seeing what has been hidden revealed reminds me of the process of poetry itself, which allows us to discover and expand into something new. The photographs inspired me to try to capture the delicate beauty of plants in words, my medium. Among the photographs was an unappealing close-up of a fungus. At first I decided to leave it out of the poem, but the poem wanted to go in a different direction. The fungus “burrows” into the poem. It speaks to vulnerability, to what happens when nature is stressed. The poem became more complex and more interesting when I stepped out of the way. This is true of most poems—if I strive to make a certain claim and direct the expression, I limit its possibilities. We have to face the fragility of life on our planet. In this poem the destructive fungus has been aggravated by a drought we may have, at least in part, created. The poem enlarges with the implied question: are we doing all we can to care for the planet we love?

Image: “Tree Fungus” by Liz West, licensed under CC 2.0

Jennifer Markell
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