Spines at the Ready

Sheep will not eat it
nor horses nor cattle
unless they are starving.
Unchecked, it will sprawl over
pasture and meadow
choking the sweet grass
defeating the clover
until you are driven
to take arms against it
but if unthinking
you grasp it barehanded
you will need tweezers
to pick out the stickers.

Outlawed in most Northern
states of the Union
still it jumps borders.
Its taproot runs deeper
than underground rivers
and once it’s been severed
by breadknife or shovel
—two popular methods
employed by the desperate—
the bits that remain will
spring up like dragons’ teeth
a field full of soldiers
their spines at the ready.

Bright little bursts of
chrome yellow explode from
the thistle in autumn
when goldfinches gorge on
the seeds of its flower.
The ones left uneaten
dry up and pop open
and parachutes carry
their procreant power
to disparate venues
in each hemisphere
which is why there will always
be thistle next year.
~Maxine Kumin “Why There Will Always Be Thistle” from The Long Marriage. 

Against the rubber tongues of cows and the hoeing hands of men
Thistles spike the summer air
And crackle open under a blue-black pressure.

Every one a revengeful burst
Of resurrection, a grasped fistful
Of splintered weapons and Icelandic frost thrust up

From the underground stain of a decayed Viking.
They are like pale hair and the gutturals of dialects.
Every one manages a plume of blood.

Then they grow grey, like men.
Mown down, it is a feud. Their sons appear,
Stiff with weapons, fighting back over the same ground.

~Ted Hughes “Thistles”

Reluctantly the summer goes
In a cloud of thistledown.
~Beverly Ashour from “September”

It is armored, it is deeply rooted, it is relentless.
Highly ambitious, it produces downy tasty dancing seeds ready to soar far. Generation after generation of thistles persist due to this delicate ballerinas’ flight to the next horizon.

I should be strive to be as persistent, as rooted, as determined, yet as fluffy and tender under my defensive prickles and spines.

And then, may I softly dance in the journey to the next life.

How You Made Them Feel

I’ve learned that even
when I have pains, I don’t have to be one …
I’ve learned that people will forget what you said,
people will forget what you did,
but people will never forget how you made them feel.
~Maya Angelou
on her 70th birthday, citing a quote from Carl Buehner

I learned from my mother how to love
the living, to have plenty of vases on hand
in case you have to rush to the hospital
with peonies cut from the lawn, black ants
still stuck to the buds. I learned to save jars
large enough to hold fruit salad for a whole
grieving household, to cube home-canned pears
and peaches, to slice through maroon grape skins
and flick out the sexual seeds with a knife point.
I learned to attend viewings even if I didn’t know

the deceased, to press the moist hands

of the living, to look in their eyes and offer
sympathy, as though I understood loss even then.
I learned that whatever we say means nothing,

what anyone will remember is that we came.
I learned to believe I had the power to ease
awful pains materially like an angel.
Like a doctor, I learned to create

from another’s suffering my own usefulness, and once
you know how to do this, you can never refuse.
To every house you enter, you must offer

healing: a chocolate cake you baked yourself,
the blessing of your voice, your chaste touch.
~Julie Kasdorf– “What I Learned from my Mother”

Usually a mom knows best about these things — how to love others when and how they need it and how to ease pain, not become one.  We don’t always get it right though, and dads can do it better.

Showing up with food is always a good thing but it is the showing up part that is the real food;  bringing along a cake is simply the icing.

This is a good reminder that as a doctor,
my usefulness has tended to depend on another’s suffering.
No illness, no misery, no symptoms and I’m out of a job.
I can only hope that someday that might be the case.
What a world it would be, especially as now suffering is universal.

And then I can still be a mom and grandmom
even if there is no more doctor work to be done:
….if I’d known it could help, I’d have baked a cake and shown up with it…

God Was Here: Our Glory and Joy

hollyberries

 

19 For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? 20 Indeed, you are our glory and joy.
1 Thessalonians 2: 19-20

 

We, the children of God–
created pure as the blossom,
blood red as the berry,
sharp as the prickly edge,
bitter as the bark —
we, redeemed and glorified,
are the crown of thorns and joy He wears.

 

albinoholly

 

 

1 Now the holly bears a berry as white as the milk,
And Mary bore Jesus, all wrapped up in silk:

And Mary bore Jesus our Saviour for to be,
And the first tree in the greenwood, it was the holly.
Holly! Holly!
And the first tree in the greenwood, it was the holly!

2. Now the holly bears a berry as green as the grass,
And Mary bore Jesus, who died on the cross:

3. Now the holly bears a berry as black as the coal,
And Mary bore Jesus, who died for us all:

4. Now the holly bears a berry, as blood is it red,
Then trust we our Saviour, who rose from the dead:

 

A Tender Heart

choke

The artichoke
With a tender heart
Dressed up like a warrior,
Standing at attention, it built
A small helmet
Under its scales
It remained
Unshakeable, She enters the kitchen
And submerges it in a pot.

Thus ends
In peace
This career
Of the armed vegetable
Which is called an artichoke,
Then
Scale by scale,
We strip off
The delicacy
And eat
The peaceful mush
Of its green heart.
~Pablo Neruda from “Ode to an Artichoke”

I first encountered a globe artichoke in my first week at college in California.  I’d never seen one before, much less dismantled and actually eaten one.  The California natives around me in the dining hall were astonished my world view had never before included artichoke leaves and heart.   After all, we were only an hour away from the artichoke capital of the world, Watsonville,  where the motto for the annual artichoke festival was “Thistle Be Fun!”

My frame of reference growing up on a farm was that thistle-looking plants were noxious weeds and needed to be chopped down before going to seed and reproducing even more noxious weeds.  This spiny looking bud that was about to bloom a purple thistle flower looked highly suspicious to me and not to be trusted.

But then someone showed me how to peel off a leaf, dip the base in mayonnaise or lemon garlic butter and scrape off the soft part with my teeth.  Noxious?  Not even close.  Absolutely delicious!  It was a revelation.

The circumferential peeling of leaves one by one leads deeper to softer petals and fewer prickles, with the flavor becoming less subtle and more distinct.  Once the leaves are all off, there lies uncovered at the base a heart to be scooped out.  The round meaty heart is the point of all this effort.  It is the gold in the buried treasure chest, the pot at the end of the rainbow. It takes work to reach it, but it never disappoints.

How to mentally get past the plainness and prickles?  How to recognize what appears so undesirable as something to preserve and nurture?   There are so many times in my day I walk right past such people or opportunities as not worth the trouble.  Sometimes I myself am the one with the prickles, protective as they seem to me yet cautionary to others, not to be trusted.

How could anyone know the tender heart that dwells within unless we gently, graciously, gratefully peel the prickles away?

thistle22