Saturday 7 January 2023

Five Poems by Sharon Whitehill

 




ODE TO THE MUSHROOM

           

How to react to a biome

that’s in between creature and plant,

forming a kingdom all to itself?

 

Unlike the emotions I feel

when beholding a redwood

or breathing the fragrance of peony blossoms

or shrinking away from poison oak,

my response to the fungus is mixed:

its nature outlandish enough to perplex,

intriguing enough to endear.

 

Nothing average or simple

about the mushroom,

whose ancestors grew into spires

that stilettoed the earth,

helped primitive plants become trees,

in whose roots they now thrive

as a vast network of organ systems

that function as one complete body.

 

But as I am wary of coming too close

to the thousands of bees

guided by the collective hive-mind,

so this mushroom network unnerves me.

As does the way mushrooms grow,

nestled in beds of organic decay

only to bloom overnight into witch-hats,

umbrellas, or funnels that fan out like skirts.

 

Yet how comically legion they are,

ovoid, conical, nippled, or saucer-flat!

And how wildly varied in texture and type:

some honeycombed into pits,

some baby-bum smooth,

some dusted with powder,

some branched like corals or shingled with scales.

 

Some waxy, some sticky, some slimy,

others bizarrely hirsute.

Some garbed in capes or bristles or goose-down.

Some bearded like Gandalph,

some fleeced like poodles,

some spiked as a medieval mace.

 

A zombie crew, this assemblage,

preternatural in its ungreenness

(blue milk, violet coral, bleeding tooth, wrinkled peach).

Multifarious in its extremes,

from the death cap

to the hallucinogenic sublime.

 

For all their abundance, mushrooms elude me.

No other visible objects in nature exist

which are neither a this nor a that.

 

 

Water Snakes

            “A spring of love gushed from my heart,

And I blessed them unaware.” –The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

 

Follow the emerald snakes

 

The words appear out of nowhere,

rise like a pallid and featureless face

out of the water.

 

Follow the emerald snakes

whether or not they repel you,

whether or not you’re afraid.

 

Follow them. Find a way to watch

as they rise from the depths,

sway with the grace of a flame

like arms raised in prayer

or like tongues of holiest fire.

Allow them your blessing. 

 

These are water snakes,

lovely and lithe.

Some grey with red bellies,

some dark-banded tans, olive greens.

They need you for nothing.

 

 

The Perverted Imp

 

First, the assault on my vision:

not a month of grieving gone by

but two retinal tears.

Then a molar in need of a crown. 



That’s when the house began falling apart,

seeming less like a run of bad luck

than Poe’s “Imp of the Perverse,”

a bedevilling lodestone of danger.

Which you, with your knack

for irreverent word-play,

transposed to “Perverted Imp.”

 

An imp that proceeds to stopper the shower

after I’ve lathered my hair,

dupes and befouls my computer,

slams the garage door down with a crash,

strikes the microwave dead in its tracks.

 

Then the unkindest cut to my home-loving soul:

he cracks open the rift in my living-room ceiling

so my belongings must be wrestled out

like good teeth by a primitive dentist,

grins as rolled carpet pads crumble and tear,

and rooms are stripped naked as for a post-mortem.

Hoots as the rest of the ceiling comes down

in a plaster-dust blizzard that hovers for days.

I imagine his cackle as dried mudding compound

tracks over the carpeted space that remains,

where for over a week I am crammed

with my dogs in their cages.

 

Even after the workers are gone he confounds me

with anonymous hardware bits,

tosses out screws that to my bare feet

are like stepping on pebbles.

He hardens to diamonds the spatters of primer

that speckle my counters and floors:

bumpy yet water-resistant beneath my fingers.

 

Peace and order restored,

yet nothing is quite as it was.

Everything speaks of a village rebuilt

after a cyclone roars through.


 

A Several World

“Here we are all, by day; by night, we're hurled
By dreams, each one, into a several world.” –Robert Herrick

 

Mixing a colourless substance

as smooth and domestic as paint, 

I dream it transforms to a hyacinth blue,

as if azure crystals too tiny to see

were blooming between my hands.

 

Until flecks of burnt umber muddy its hue 

as oxygen rusts a cut apple

or thunderheads darken the sky:

a tarnish imposed on the innocent blue

as my weary arm yields to the sepia spread. 

 

All this connected, I sense,

to the underground river of shame

at hardening my heart and turning away

from that which I’m helpless to change.

As I did from my husband that terrible night

when I left him alone with his death.

When I could have stood by.

Could have cradled his hand.

 

Until a sudden shift in perspective

unforeseen as the moment a sepia Dorothy

steps through her door into Oz:

that the vanishing blue of my dream

was as morally neutral as sunset-bronzed skies,

as midwinter daylight eclipsed by the dark.

 

That my scrabbling sideways into my shell

like the crab of my zodiac sign

has been a defense against pain.

 

That he knew days before I averted my eyes

that the darkness was coming for him

and showed every sign of being ready.

 

That he may have been one of the many

who yield to that last blinking out

only when loved ones have stepped away

and left them alone in the room:

 

a way to reframe my absence that night    

as a tacit permission, a serendipitous gift.



Bits and Pieces

 

Where once there was nothing

but silver-green June grass and sky,

there came to pass a tall barn, painted grey.

 

“Let there be a loft,” I decreed

when I gazed up to see nothing

but emptiness under the roof.

 

“Let pine boards be laid as a floor,

a skylight installed in the rafters

to dazzle the dust motes between.”

 

This a synecdoche for the way human beings

build cities from bits and pieces of matter,

where once there was nothing but nature.

 

Momentous that concrete and steel

can be shaped into buildings and roads,

where once there was nothing but land.

 

That certain arrangements of words

can be alchemized into poems

when once there was nothing but thought.

 

That a stunning mosaic be formed

out of nothing but chips of glass.

All as astounding to me

 

as those stories of dismembered giants,

bits and pieces of their flesh and bones

converted to earth, sky, and sea.


Sharon Whitehill is a retired English professor from West Michigan now living in Port Charlotte, Florida. In addition to poems published in various literary magazines, her publications include two scholarly biographies, two memoirs, two poetry chapbooks, and a full collection of poems.

 

 

 

 


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