Conversations in art about ecological collapse and our place in the changing world

Conversation 29

storms have childlike hands and wings
Claudia Coutu Radmore

Trillium grandiflorum, great white trillium, wood lily,
toadshade wakerobin, birthroot

I’ve wondered if trilliums can sense
a person walking on a quiet path
are those three petals ultrasonic antennae
measuring the distance from possible danger
seismometers noting the slightest earth
tremble or rhythm of approaching footsteps
on the trail all the grandiflora are

turned towards me from each side as if
watching a parade not turned toward the
sun as normal petals do and if so is it fear
we should read in those ephemeral petals
their concern that danger is everywhere
and should a stranger stop to reassure that
no one is here to hurt them steal their

offspring as they have experienced before
scientists say that trillium petals follow
sun and yet in these forests they do not
Shunryu Suzuki says before humans
were born we were one with the universe
separated by birth from this oneness
like water falling from a waterfall

parted by the wind and rocks and we
remember the feeling and yearn to be back
to that feeling; trillium, listen, you have
a polarity field that sends auxin to the tip
of your leaves and a gene to orchestrate
how you will grow there is photosynthesis
in your petals and in your phenotype lodge

macromolecules, cells, and behavioral
patterns along with internally coded,
inheritable information, so is it beyond
possibility that there may lie sensors
as yet undiscovered to alert you when
we walk on your trail; trillium you were
never born and need not struggle to return

to oneness for you’ve always been
where humans long to be I sing you
lovely toadshade, wake robin, trillium
tell me please what oneness feels like
tell me please why plants 
do so much good for the earth
while we do not


roots and relations

wild sasparilla, Aralia nudicaulus

the importance of naming, the opportunity to taste
name, hold it in your mouth, between tongue and palate  

remember being fourteen when you wrote their name
on the white underskin of your forearm, sneaked peeks

during Latin class under the teacher’s steely surveillance
when you watched as someone carved deep into the 

maple tree their initials and yours in a heart, and years
later coming upon the desecration, gently tracing the 

raised ridges with your fingers, the names of your
mother and father shadowy on gravestones, the day 

you knew what you would name your child ―
so you are not surprised how much it means

to discover the name of this wildflower
savor it, list it in your personal vocabulary 

so that now, as you pass on the trail, you approach
as if newly introduced to someone you would like 

to know better in conversation or contemplation
and discuss your six million degrees of relationship

Hello Wild Sasparilla, how are you this morning
I love your other names, Aralia nudicaulus, and 

rabbit root; they say so much about you and your
ginseng relations; this winter I will remember you

run your name through my thoughts, roll it around
the papillae of my tongue, and long for your return

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