The Innisfree Poetry Journal

by Lenny Lianne


    late December, 1606
    on the Susan Constant, Godspeed and the Discovery
    sailing to the Virginia Colony

We could almost taste the gold,
all of us so hungry for easy riches,
even the ambitious English gentlemen,
mostly upper crust subsequent sons
with no landed inheritance.

This was the whispered promise,
still immanent and fresh,
that we were headed for a land,
lavish in gold and silver, translucent
pearls and fruit, all bountiful
and ready for picking.

Even for the six carpenters, the mason,
two bricklayers, the blacksmith,
the tailor, drummer and barber,
for all the laborers and the four boys,
the past was a place of fog and smoke
and tomorrow, a wilderness of riches,
where even the air would be sweeter.

This vision clung to us
the way the long horizon held
onto the sky.  Daily we looked out,
past the scud and slap of the water,
and waited for the land of wealth
to present itself like a new bride.


In the unsparing swelter of summer
when even one's own breath sears
its way down inside the chest,
and sweat seeps out of all
the pores with no cooling effect,

there blooms near our homes,
in cornfields and at the edge
of our rubbish heaps, a weed
of deceiving beauty.  Fine-skinned,
as if it weighed nothing, and flared,
with violet-tinged white fabric,
a flower we named angel's trumpet.

Like other appealing promises
of this traitorous place,
it proceeded toward trouble.
Its dark-green leaves gave
a foul odor so some of our sages
christened it stinkweed.
We all stayed away.

By Fall, we forgot its flower.
One man mistook its root
for horseradish; another sipped
and lingered over its tea
and others swallowed the leaves,
poached for hot salad.  Some
tasted the kidney-shaped seeds.

In less than an hour, a strangeness
spread.  In the mouth, inside
the chest, a dry, incinerated
sensation.  Some endured
a difficulty talking, others only
howled and clashed like animals.

All who saw, sensed something
unspeakably accursed
inhabited the plant and all
its parts.  We've come to call it
the devil's apple.  Only distance
and history, those masters
of nuance and niceties,   
will redeem this weed               
and forgive the fickle nature            
of this place and age.                


As plant hunter, I followed the tendrils
of rivers inland and up sinuous creeks
yet to be mapped and combed the unruly
terrain to collect wayside flowers
and flamboyant weeds.  New fragrances
and shades, these were the rare plants
declared Exoticks by the botanical scientists
and royal gardeners back in England,
eager for the seeds I sent by sailing ship.

As if all the newness carried its own
emblematic essentials and quirks,
I unearthed names for my discoveries:
bee balm, selected for its head
with paired stamens like antennae,
and the black-eyed susan, with centers
of darkest amber, staring at the sun.

Goldenrod seemed so easy to label.
Other times I fared not so fortunately,
as when I spotted songbirds eating
a fruit which persisted through the winter.
I took one bite of what I later called
red chokeberry, fooled by its resemblance
to small red-fleshed apples or dark cherries.

I, the plant hunter, loved the unbridled
country and its rough mysteries.  I had
no need to inhabit cramped and squalid rooms
or drafty alehouses where planters puffed
their clay pipes and argued the politics
of shillings per bushel and bushels per acre.

The only news I needed was spacious
and free: old growth, new buds or the smell
of rain on the air.  I noted how the roiling
shadows of clouds moved and made the fields
of high grass seem an ocean.  I was far
away from the small worlds of city life
and my aloneness was an arrival
I called solitude.

Copyright 2006-7 by Cook Communication