Wandering Thistle

Cirsium horridulum
Common names ~ Bristle Thistle, Yellow Thistle, Horrid Thistle, Purple Thistle, Spiny Thistle, Bull Thistle
Family ~ Asteraceae (Aster Family)
Photos taken at the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge

The thistle is the official floral emblem of Scotland. The logo for the Encyclopaedia Britannica incorporates the thistle as well and the thistle  flower was used to symbolize the Virgin Mary during the middle ages. It also stands for resilience, bravery, courage, evil, protection and pride among other things. An edible plant, the thistle is native to North America and grows in marshy areas. I was struck by the fact that this flower made itself visible every place on the Refuge, stark like the sun.

I used this to explore the poem ‘Thistles’,  written by Ted Hughes besides writing my own. He was quite famously, the husband of Sylvia Plath and was appointed Poet Laureate of England in 1984, a post he held until his death. I have included below a link [1] to a good analysis of his poem by Andrew Spacey, that helped me appreciate it better. (Poem and notes further down).

My poem ‘wandering thistle‘ is based on the peculiarities of flora and fauna at the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge [2] which I visited in the latter part of May. Some species of Thistle are considered to be aggressive weeds in gardens, but the thistle is a hardy plant, it produces more spines when the landscape gets drier as an ecological adaptation. An important source of nectar for pollinating insects, it is also a source of enzymes for the manufacturing of vegetarian rennet, the leaves are edible too. The family Asteraceae or Compositae consist of many economically useful plants. The flower heads are actually an inflorescence of around hundred disc flowers, hence their inclusion in the family Compositae, like sunflowers. The fruiting body is known as an achene. The ponies of Assateague Island mentioned in the poem are a tourist attraction and do affect the refuge with their grazing habits. They are therefore kept at a limited number of animals on the land by the Local Fire Company. [3][4][5}.

Wandering Thistle ~ Davina E. Solomon

In the threshing turbulence of a wetland,
her spiny wanderer traces through
that colonial mishap in ponies.

Fire fighters breed ungulate hearts
in Virginia, amidst the arson of an intrepid.
A composite of helping hands harvesting

light, but you only thought of sunflowers,
those distant cousins. She wears an armour
of spines, winnowing the day

into a bright blitz of flares, becoming
thistles on thistle. They milk her for
rennet, unlike those grazing ponies that simply

frolic on sand. but you only thought of ponies,
those distant lives. She wears frills in her leaves
that blend into sustenance for the foraging free.

She poisons your land you say? Those bumblebees
spirit out her soul, tiger swallowtails
punctuate her poetry in jousting colour

or secrete love into their life cycle
of the sweetness of nectar. Is this a
billowing battle even as her achenes

fly those self same stories of ancient ardour
on a surreptitious silky wind that
wars with no one but her singular soul.
Thistles by Ted Hughes

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.

Source~https://allpoetry.com/Thistles

In my own attempt at analysing this poem: This poem appears masculine. Even as benign ruminants and industrious tillers of soil are portrayed to create social pressure for thistles, the aggravated flower is Martian in it’s resolute attempt to resurrect itself, like a warrior, fighting for land, for presence, amidst a cacophony of a myriad voices, others just like them. Set against this botanical and pastoral imagery, seed dehiscence is used as a metaphor for destruction, seed dispersal and germination as a way to recreate the ancestral, to perpetuate in the way of plants through the perennial feud as in the ways of men that live alongside them carry forth the social order for survival. Nature is a battleground in this poem. It also illustrates how language shapes our worldview. Through a botanical perspective it appears to be the life cycle of thistle, through personification, it’s the genesis of war and battles, through social darwinism simply the survival of organisms constantly fighting for space on a harsh landscape, poetry though, seems to exhibit all perspectives. Language becomes the vehicle for creating fictions by consciously channelling the inner voice, whether through our happy optimism, scientific realism or poetry on metaphorical combat.

Some aspects elucidated in Andrew Spacey’s analysis are that, ‘Thistles is a free verse poem in 4 stanzas, a total of 12 lines of varying length. There is no rhyme scheme, no consistent metrical beat.’

Hughes’s allusion to Vikings, Spacey notes that, ‘ Vikings invaded Hughes’ land centuries earlier (7th-10th century AD) and were a strong force in and around Hughes’s birthplace in the Calder Valley in what is now Yorkshire”. The gutturals of dialects he compares to the raspy Yorkshire dialect that is still spoken by people some of whose ancestors count among pale haired Scandinavians.’

His analysis helped identify all the literary devices [5] employed therein:

Alliteration in ‘hoeing hands, spike the summer, blue-black, then they grow grey,’ the assonance in ‘crackle – blue-black, every – revengeful, stain – decayed,’ Caesura in ‘Of resurrection’, a bit of enjambed lines in lines 1,2, 4,5,6, Personification of thistles as revengeful and fighting back, Similes in ‘they are like pale hair, the gutturals of dialects and then they grow grey, like men.’

I have tried to define the literary devices used:

Alliteration ~ a repetition of initial consonant sounds at the beginning of words that are close to each other or follow each other
Assonance ~ a repetition of vowel sounds in words that are close within a sentence or phrase of prose or poem
Caesura ~ a rhythmic pause at the beginning (initial), middle (medial) or end (terminal) line in a poem, that is with or without punctuation, indicated by parallel lines ||, and can be after an unstressed syllable as in a feminine caesura or after a long stressed syllable in a masculine caesura
Personification is a bit like anthropomorphising, providing human characteristics to non human objects or organisms
Simili ~ a comparison of the dissimilar with one another through the use of words like or as
Enjambment ~ a line of the poem works it’s way to the next line without a grammatical pause or punctuation, to carry forth an idea or the flow of thought

References:

[1] Analysis of the ‘Thistles ( Ted Hughes)’ by Andrew Spacey ~https://owlcation.com/humanities/Analysis-of-Poem-Thistles-by-Ted-Hughes

[2]~https://lemonbayconservancy.org/a-floridian-visits-assateague-island/

[3]Species list on Chincoteague Refuge ~https://www.fws.gov/uploadedFiles/Appendix%20L_CHN%20Draft%20CCPEIS.pdf

[4]~https://www.fws.gov/uploadedFiles/CCP_Volume3.pdf

[5]~https://www.cronodon.com/NatureTech/thistles.html

[6]Literary Devices (an encyclopediac resource, very helpful) ~https://literarydevices.net/

In the universal cake house, the layering of a feast

We had guests today, so I baked pound cakes in fluted moulds, following a recipe [1] that is absolutely super easy with delicious outcomes. I adapted it to create a low sugar, but stronger vanilla version. Sour cream pound cake is a fine way to use any extra sour cream taking up space in the refrigerator.

It was when I unmoulded the cakes last night that I thought of how exquisite they looked, out of those rarely used bundt tins. I had enough time over the course of today to think of what this fine geometry should spark, a poem of sweet confections perhaps. The aroma of cake while rain is misting a garden feels a bit like the smoky woods, wise witches, cake castles, a cascade of the folkloric, Hansel, Gretel …

I remembered Alice Maud Krige, the elegant witch in the 2020 fantasy horror “Gretel and Hansel”, directed by Oz Perkins, based on the German folk tale, “Hansel and Gretel” by the Brothers Grimm. I thought of the indefatigable Gretel in the same movie. I realise that life is the stuff of stories, our well crafted fictions.

Alice Krige is forever imprinted on my mind as one of the ‘Sleepwalkers’ from the movie adapted off Stephen King’s unpublished story of the same name, a film featuring chameleon cars, unfeeling cats and a feeding complex tinged by the Oedipal. She fit into the 2020 ” Gretel and Hansel” like I would believe in water and salt. This movie also showcases a Gretel waiting to turn to the dark side, who is the perfect sister to her naive younger brother, brave as she is brusque. I thought this bundt cake should be dedicated to the wildness in Gretel as much as the counterpoint to her, in the malignant elegance of Holda, the older witch. So here’s to witches 🥂🍾

For Gretel, for Holda ...

In the woods of mysterious shapes
fluted soul confections exist
secreted into the dark matter
of a concentric existence,
baked like Bundt,
a universe within the world.

They stole the yolks to submerge
them in a bog of greasy labour,
the dust flour spirits of millennia
spool seasons in wild imaginings,
etch tablets, lay feasts for kings
and the lost offspring of man.

Here in the shape of sweet confections
they taste milk, vanilla, sweet berries.
She strode over thistle, a bramble bush
of experience, those yawning graves
and moaning plagues, pandemics,
until in the vortex, beaten in batter.

The saccharine curse of a gingerbread
ruse, beckoning like a copse of corpses.
When the fingertips are a tint of necrosis,
tales of sweet temptations spirit through
the peaty entrails of pillaged villages
torn asunder through billowing desire for

fluted castles, solid, sweet, aromatic
in the changeable woods and the wild
was therefore always a witch,
conjuring cake houses for mankind,
in layered feasts that adorn the table
and entice the palate,
to be desired, to be abhorred,
to be loved, to be scorned.
Here's the recipe:

1 cup butter (252 g), softened
2 1/2 cups fine white sugar
6 large eggs, room temperature
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sour cream, room temperature, beaten with 3 teaspoons vanilla extract

Grease with butter and flour a 10 inch Bundt mould. Set the oven to 325°

In a bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy for over 5-7 minutes. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine flour, baking soda and salt; add to creamed mixture, alternate with the mixture of sour cream and vanilla. Beat on low until blended. Pour into the pan, level the mixture with a fork and bake at 325° for 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 hours or until a skewer comes out clean. Remember to cool in pan 15 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely, or the cake may stick to the pan. Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar if desired.

[1] Adapted from the perfect recipe:

Sour Cream Pound Cake ~https://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/sour-cream-pound-cake/

According to Wikipedia which defines them quite well :


A pound cake is a type of cake traditionally made with a pound of each of four ingredients: flour, butter, eggs, and sugar. Pound cakes are generally baked in either a loaf pan or a Bundt mould. They are sometimes served either dusted with powdered sugar, lightly glazed, or with a coat of icing”. 


A Bundt cake is a cake that is baked in a Bundt pan, shaping it into a distinctive doughnut shape. The shape is inspired by a traditional European cake known as Gugelhupf, but Bundt cakes are not generally associated with any single recipe”. 

The nacre of detachment in weighing anchor

In Cape May, a rusted anchor and driftwood

I took the photo along a street in Cape May the other day. It was what sparked this poem for Mental Health Awareness Month. According to Psychology, many mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) tend to involve ruminating thoughts and this poem is for a fresh perspective on rumination and overthinking.

Is it that we consider some mental proclivities as disorders to be fixed, rather than see them as a healing process, like a fever for example; ruminating on wounds, hurts, anxieties appears to be normal, for some more than others, it can seem an endless obsession. It isn’t easy to seek to be understood in a world where time and attention are scarce, it’s also dangerous to be vulnerable where society is given to judgement and quick fixes to urge one back onto the grindstone.

Our collective lack of supportive empathy, loss of belief in self healing, a pill to fix everything and the inability to let people see their anxieties or sorrows as something to be experienced for a while and not incessantly seek escape from, is a bit sad in a way. Our interventions too sometimes seem prescriptive, so also do our cures for symptomatic relief. On this note, it might be interesting to know that ECT (electroconvulsive therapy), is still being used to treat depression and mood disorders in the US.

I didn’t wish to ramble away but thought to share John Read’s article advocating against electroshock therapy or electroconvulsive therapy, which is still a mainstay of psychiatry. I never knew until I read this essay [1] a couple of months ago and felt it merited a mention given that it is mental health awareness month. I would like to quote from it the documented experience of the Italian neurologist Ugo Cerletti, who was one of the first to use electricity to induce seizures in patients in the 1930s:

His first human subject was a 39-year-old engineer from Milan, whom the police found wandering around a Rome train station in a confused state. When the first electric shock failed to produce the desired convulsion, Cerletti and his assistant discussed whether to administer a more powerful shock. Cerletti reported: All at once, the patient, who evidently had been following our conversation, said clearly and solemnly, without his usual gibberish: ‘Not another one! It’s deadly!’ Cerletti proceeded anyway, in the first of the millions of instances that were to follow, and which continue today, of people being given this treatment despite clearly stating they don’t want it.

There is something about this that bothers me immensely and I would be concerned if it didn’t bother you dear reader. A case of confused wandering and gibberish could entail ECT in the 1930s, then we have something to think about, if in our haste to pathologise human behaviour, we have stopped to listen to what the psyche demands, in our hurry to fix it, even through such horrific interventions. It is as if we are afraid of being left alone in our thoughts, afraid of our inner voice, constantly seeking that we are, to silence it.

I am a bit of a serial ruminator and a gopher of sorts that will dig out the entire garden to find meaning in soil, ah well, compost maybe. I see ruminating as a healing process mostly, debilitating at times but similar to the formation of pearls if it transmutes into something creative. Engaging with passion (some may read this as obsession) in a creative enterprise, appears to be a defense mechanism, like layering a foreign substance in nacre to form a pearl, over a lengthy period of time. There are so many ways of mitigating pain or distress or anxieties, even an oyster has a lesson for us perhaps.

In the nausea of yesterday's regrets

that knocks the wind out of our sails and they say,


"Submit to the dhow, be resigned to the sea."

Memories are grains of sand that strode over


barnacles, oysters, as salt water baptised

rocky shores to spirit within a clam soul


the 'forever itch'. Looping recollections

of schoolyard bullies unearthing every time


the solar lantern crashed the limiting horizons

of a violated dusk, darkly helpless


to aphorisms of a fiery sun,

a compassionate moon or retreating waves.


Conchiolin layers nucleated sorrows

in luminous nacre of a lyrical


immunity, a concentric array of

soft healing words accreting around old hurt


rounding edges off aragonite bruises,

to finally spit pearls, raise anchor, set sail.

The memory of feeling nauseated on a dhow comes from Zanzibar. The waters were very choppy. The dhow keeper told me then, not to fight it. He asked me to lie down and become one with the movement, it turned out to be my lesson for ‘going with the flow’.

This is an attempt at a hendecasyllabic poem, where each metrical line consists of 11 syllables [2]

References:

[1]https://aeon.co/essays/why-is-electroshock-therapy-still-a-mainstay-of-psychiatry

[2]https://www.poetryfoundation.org/learn/glossary-terms/hendecasyllabic

Portrait of a Gilded Mannequin

Years ago, when I read ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ by Oscar Wilde, I don’t remember how I felt mostly, except that the story ended in a moral which was undoubtedly the saddest part because it was too fantastically karmic. Given that Wilde was wild in his days, wrote only this one novel published in 1890, which got censored for indecency despite the moral ending and that he went to prison for sodomy, then died at 46 of meningitis, makes me feel terrible for him. Yet, it was George Bernard Shaw who said about Wilde, that he possessed “an unconquerable gaiety of soul.” That is an exculpation of sorts from otherwise tragic circumstances.

The poem was inspired by the character of Sibyl in ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’, the actress in love with the hedonist Dorian Gray, who can fake no more her love on stage, ever since she finds out what true love is. Dorian Gray sells his soul, so that he may remain youthful forever while his picture bears the marks of his debauched existence, his various sins, the first being the sneer after he rejects Sibyl for her melodramatic display of woundedness. An eventual dialogue between Gray and Lord Henry upon learning of Sibyl’s death is as follows:

“So I have murdered Sibyl Vane,” said Dorian Gray, half to himself, “murdered her as surely as if I had cut her little throat with a knife. Yet the roses are not less lovely for all that. The birds sing just as happily in my garden. And to-night I am to dine with you, and then go on to the opera, and sup somewhere, I suppose, afterwards. How extraordinarily dramatic life is! If I had read all this in a book, Harry, I think I would have wept over it. Somehow, now that it has happened actually, and to me, it seems far too wonderful for tears. Here is the first passionate love-letter I have ever written in my life. Strange, that my first passionate love-letter should have been addressed to a dead girl. Can they feel, I wonder, those white silent people we call the dead? Sibyl! Can she feel, or know, or listen? Oh, Harry, how I loved her once! It seems years ago to me now. She was everything to me. Then came that dreadful night—was it really only last night?—when she played so badly, and my heart almost broke. She explained it all to me. It was terribly pathetic. But I was not moved a bit. I thought her shallow. Suddenly something happened that made me afraid. I can’t tell you what it was, but it was terrible. I said I would go back to her. I felt I had done wrong. And now she is dead. My God! My God! Harry, what shall I do? You don’t know the danger I am in, and there is nothing to keep me straight. She would have done that for me. She had no right to kill herself. It was selfish of her.” (Chapter VIII)

I wanted to juxtapose this with our constant vacillations between what we think is authentic in us and the performative authenticity we are driven towards by our social mores, that we deem precious and true. Gray was very conflicted in his appreciation for an assumed ideal that he feels Sibyl does not live up to, so in a way I also wanted the poem to stand for Sibyl deserving of her own social-effacing picture in contrast to Gray’s self effacing one. I felt this portrait of a mannequin takes on the bloodletting of society in its perpetual quest for various contrivances to imitate youth and/or health. The photo I took at the Macy’s flower show in Manhattan this month. It was what triggered the thought for the poem and then, Dorian Gray.

Portrait of Sibyl, gilded mannequin
Skin sheathed in the colour of warmth, she is
a portrait that sparks a thousand poems to life,

in furtive blush strokes of plum that court 
her lips, like candied corruptions .

Piquant pulse gurgles through the venous
in rough timbre, at ceaseless pitch ...

black onyx or brown amber eyes, contrails
of hair mark the wind like a flag in happy tatters

until Sibyl learns of the sibilant in an undergrowth,
a yearning snaking forth a thousand fold in desire

for the effervescence of youth or is it the ephemeral
in heart beats, the colour of borrowed time,

rendered to elixirs of hue on a pristine counter 
drained from her as she takes on an ashen tint.

Her sweet scent blossoms into frangipani, all musk
and bloom, the apothecary delights in bottling them all 

as the gilded vines of gold harness her to a lily fate
in a valley of echoes, impersonating life 

while she remains a cold absence of herself on
a marble floor, dead chalk, like bone in a barrenness.
At the Macy’s flower show this month

Notes:

Here is this remarkable book in the public domain, for those who may wish to read it. The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde

Beach and Broadway

It was the sign that seeded this pearl. I may add to it later, the parts I hacked off. The verse let me have fun with some weak attempts at alliteration.

Subtract the stygian from the sea 
for a theatre of the absurd. Aren't we
fancy oysters frustratedly filtering out
sand, then spitting  satiny pearls or dolphins
skimming the surface in synchronized breath ?

~ poetry in motion, TBC

Yodeling philosophy

He laughs, country songs are simply coffee 
heartbreaks, the cloying of sugar love ...

She thinks Hank Williams is the sound of
leaving Virginia, leaving Maryland, leaving
Delaware to board the Lewes Ferry

No matter how I struggle and strive
I'll never get out of this world alive

He yodels philosophy like she almost
always smiles until the poetry rolls off
her fingers and  wrinkles the sea

The water sashays under grey nimbus.
He knots time into a pretzel and smiles
at the spicy honey mustard and ketchup
she pours on a plate. He knows
she hates ketchup.She knows, he knows ...

She points to the lighthouses, so many
line the sea struck hour like beacon guides,

or sirens that save from the sea, that's simply
a viscous burial for rusted feelings,the foam of imaginings.

This boat isn't exhausted yet and she floats
to Cape May on a whimsy, a breeze.

Yodeling philosophy:

Hank Williams singing I will never get out of this world alive

It was Hank Williams and Patsy Cline  all the way to Cape May. There’s nothing like country music to still you into the moment and everything is as it seems, as it is meant to be. The foam of the sea is simply that, what the pandemic ushered in, battles with the ephemeral shadowy past. We cannot make sense of ghosts and the demoniacal of a virus, so we write stories to them, wear masks, but the sea will swallow the foam.

It was delightful this morning, we cycled through the historic district and my vintage and creaky  hotel bicycle had no handle brakes. It was the thrill of childhood once more and I almost fell off laughing at that thing yodeling like Hank Williams 🙂