The colour of appearances

Driving West, Ed Sheeran on the radio singing songs he has written and I find that the leaves simply change colour through the course of his Afterglow. How very apt. I cannot think of a more perfect song for the changing hues of foliage, leaving Pennsylvania, the sun laying claim to the west, like a glittering exhibitionist .. and then Lake Erie with her choppy waters. A thought crosses my mind, an acronym I knew for the great Lakes – HOMES; never imagined I would one day see the water that makes up all of that E. Who knew vowels could contain so much water. Here, it is autumn and the leaves are beginning to hoard hue.

Stop the clocks, it's amazing
You should see the way the light dances off your head
A million colours of hazel, golden and red
Saturday morning is fading
The sun's reflected by the coffee in your hand
My eyes are caught in your gaze all over again (Ed Sheeran, Afterglow)

Further on in this song, Sheeran sings of Iron and Wine, the stage name of singer-songwriter Samuel “Sam” Ervin Beam whose songs are actually the stuff of poetry. I like Iron and Wine; that Ed Sheeran listens to him, is heartening. Perhaps it informs his own poetry and he speaks for both of them when he says “There’s no better way to get your point across than to put it to a beautiful song”. The sign made me smile.

At the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland, Ohio

Sam Beam too has sung songs of Autumn and I have excerpted some of his brilliant lyrical poetry, because I like it.

There are times that walk from you like some passing afternoon
Summer warmed the open window of her honeymoon
And she chose a yard to burn but the ground remembers her
Wooden spoons, her children stir her Bougainvillea blooms

There are things that drift away like our endless, numbered days
Autumn blew the quilt right off the perfect bed she made
And she's chosen to believe in the hymns her mother sings
Sunday pulls its children from the piles of fallen leaves

(Passing Afternoon from the album 'Our Endless Numbered days' 2004)

It is easy to be inspired by Autumn, our consciousness of the colour of senescence, the passage of time through the hue of everything that the light makes delightful ..

Dappled moments caught in the weft 
of the carpet like splashes of colour
and I noticed a mimosa in the drink.
The outdoors drenched in fresh hues
of rain and light danced a myriad ways
to red. Yellowing canopies little
thirst for the rambunctious energy
of green so the grove shimmered
all shades through that late afternoon.
Now that I think about it, laid thick
onto those off coloured regrets were
spent sentiments, a dilution of resolve,
the death rattle of a fading of dreams.
What did we absorb to reflect so?
Simply a mirror, the land, sky, you, I ..

davina e. solomon,
September,
Pennsylvania 2021

Autumn is a time for thoughtful retreat. There is a reason why nature wills itself to sleep, it is simply the absence of light. I never experienced such a season in the tropics, life is brazenly bright in those places where people usually have sunny dispositions and write poetry to the monsoons and harvests, mostly.

Just in case you are wondering about the science and why we think we see leaves reflect green, researchers are struggling to explain this still. Chloroplasts use the energy of green (at least 90% of it) and there could be other structures of the leaf cell that help reflect this colour.

Given the noise of light that reaches the leaves, or even those shaded in the undergrowth, the leaf photosynthetic apparatus tries its utmost to absorb similar wavelengths of light and that which it receives at differing rates. The photosynthetic machinery has evolved ‘ not for maximum efficiency but rather for an optimally smooth and reliable output’. [1] The plant system aims for stability, not system efficiency which, I like to think, is the hallmark of the natural world. (I wrote earlier of the inefficiencies described in the wing -planform of the dragonfly).

Other pigments that accumulate in the leaf are also responsible for the multiple hues which we can observe in plants during Autumn. Yet, why we see colour the way we do still needs to be investigated further. Unlike in many other mammals, trichromacy evolved in humans, i.e. red, green, and blue colour vision, possibly for foraging, social signalling or through evolutionary constraint. [2]

I am intrigued by the change in colours and how the hues we observe, give meaning to nature and to life or perhaps, it is we who ascribe colour to situations in myriad ways. Even research hopes to explain this someday, until then, we have only poems.

References:

[1]~https://www.wired.com/story/why-are-plants-green-the-answer-might-work-on-any-planet/

[2]~https://aeon.co/ideas/the-red-and-green-specialists-why-human-colour-vision-is-so-odd

The Price of Freedom

I paused for a while beneath the towering, twelve foot high ‘Mourning Soldier’ created by Sculptors J. Tom Carrillo and Thomas Jay Warren, who designed the New Jersey Korean War Memorial in Atlantic City. The Memorial  features bronze figures of heroic proportions, that represent the US servicemen and women who fought in the Korean Conflict, 1950-1953, the nation’s only undeclared war, which claimed more than 36,000 American lives. Approximately 7,600 service personnel remain unaccounted for in this war [1]

In that time I knew, I wished to bear witness to what the anonymous soldier may have felt, fashioned thus. Isn’t that what poetry is meant to do? Bear witness?

“There can be no real love without a willingness to sacrifice. Do you love your country? Do you love the men with whom you will be privileged to serve? If you do, then you will be prepared to sacrifice for them,”  said Lieutenant General Matthew Ridgway, commander of the 8th US Army in Korea while addressing his troops [1]

I read further about the Memorial site after my visit. In that moment though, as I stood in the shadow of the bronze giant, a scene came to mind,  from that great old Western, The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly; the one in which Eli Wallach’s character Tuco, runs through a Civil War era cemetery, to Ennio Morricone’s unforgettable, Ecstasy of Gold [2] As I lingered a while longer, I tried to imagine what it is the soldier may have thought,  what is it I may have thought if I were him …

Freedom is not free ..

A scene of war at its least grotesque is accommodated into my psyche as hundreds of neatly laid graves, buried gold and grave expressions. Here he was, this handsome soldier holding dog tags, mourning his loss perhaps, drily gazing at metal that is supposed to be made of T304 stainless steel and which contains 18% of chromium, 8% nickel, to help resist corrosion [3] later when I read about the significance of military dog tags, I learnt they usually have various details embossed into the metal, like first and last names of the soldiers, their military ID, serial/social security number, their blood type and religious preference as a token for identification. Historically, of the two dog tags allotted to each soldier, one is worn on a chain around the neck and the other is placed within the boot in case the body is dismembered. Today, it is a symbolic part of US military culture as the military uses medical/dental records and DNA sampling to positively identify deceased military service members [4,5]

A large advertisement on the window of a casino hotel along the boardwalk; Atlantic city has a vibrant casino scene.

I think the poem came about in a stream of consciousness, of scenes juxtaposed against a crowded boardwalk. Everyone seemed to be simply passing through an evening while the fading light marked a watery horizon that spanned far beyond thin wooden defenses erected on the sand. The casino hotels while towering in their lights, funnelled the banter of a weekend crowd to the skies, wafting as it were on pungent smoke. And there he was, the only mute figure in metal, stamped in endless mourning.

Poetry exists, I think sometimes, to give a voice to the silent. It is an ekphrastic poem I created with each stanza arranged as per the haiku/senryu 5/7/5 syllabic pattern, linked form, which I have come to refer to as viscid haiku, for lack of a better term. I wrote about it here.

Words for the Mourning Soldier…

Those final mercies
of alloy, engraven with
beaming stainless names..

Trophies I gathered,
lay cold in boots that had worn
the tread of reason,

trudged the practical
pursuit of happiness, raised
in a picket fence ..

frail notions against
ingress of sea, that others
like me, shan't trespass

these deep trenches of
solitude fashioned for my
loyal labours

Brothers,
Of hearts that
beat for land, sky and water,
yours carved in life, pulse

still to endure, on
stiff badge of universal
brotherhood. Lustrous ..

my chromium guilt.
I have survived the deluge
of shrapnel that rusts

not nickel or dime.
Devoted sacrifice, yours,
finds soul harbour safe

within me - rewards
I've reaped thousand fold, as I
walk home to freedom.

On the Beach ~ Atlantic City, NJ

References:

[1]~https://www.nj.gov/military/community/civic-engagement/war-memorials/korean-war-memorial.shtml

[2]~https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3IlqY1CbI0

[3]~https://www.cim-usa.com/news/the-importance-of-military-dog-tags-and-how-they-are-used.html

[4]~https://www.medalsofamerica.com/blog/the-history-of-dog-tags/

[5]~https://www.defense.gov/News/Inside-DOD/Blog/Article/2340760/dog-tag-history-how-the-tradition-nickname-started/

Incandescent bread 

I baked bread recently using khorasan wheat. I had never milled grain for bread before and it was an arduous process with a countertop grinder. I was actually more interested in studying how my sourdough starter would work on a new variety of wheat flour.

The type I used, Triticum turanicum, (trademarked as Kamut in the US) is named after a species that some websites claim, possibly had its origins in the Fertile Crescent region of the Middle East, in what could have been parts of Iran, Afghanistan or Turkey. The Khorasan wheat, according to some others, is thought to have originated in Mesopotamia and then brought into Egypt [1]. Kamut is similar to durum wheat which is the one used in making pasta. 

In her dissertation, Tate Paulette notes that in the third millennium BC, cuneiform documents suggested that barley was more widely grown along with some emmer wheat and another free threshing species, which could have possibly been durum. Paulette also adds that in some sites across Northern and Southern Mesopotamia for example, archaeologists have actually recovered emmer wheat (Triticum dicoccum), and einkorn wheat (Triticum monococcum), as well as some other varieties of wheat, including bread wheat (Triticum aestivum) and club wheat (Triticum compactum) in addition to 2-row (Hordeum distichum) and 6-row (Hordeum
vulgare) barley (Paulette 2015: 7-8)[2]. 

Navigating heirloom grains is an almost political process. In any case, it was fun experimenting with this unusual looking wheat berry and the bread had an even crumb to it. It was delicious, like bread can be. I should share the recipe soon. 

Enjoy the poem !

The dough is molten at oven spring,
like a prayer to the historicity of things ..

Have we not imagined yesterdays
in the ritual of bread ? While our pasts

lay embezzled, on the tongues of men, the
sentiment of centuries colluded in germ,

echoing through heirloom remembrances
those floury philosophies of change.

While I stretch dough to gaze past
a windowpane, as far back as Khorasan ..

they were other names then, another
elasticity in time. Faith is a memory

of settled people in lands of milk and
honey, where every drought, every flood

spawns a new religion .. and the wheat,
always begs the same old question:

Are we there yet, in the fertile crescent
of opportunity ? The grains haven't changed

in their stolid countenance - long, subtle,
germy, cosseted. In the granaries of kings ..

they are willed by royal decree, never to die
in an eternal future and like humankind,

who score bread in the cuneiform of hearts,
grain is always thirsting to seed the land.

Terms [3]

Oven spring – In bread baking, the final burst of rising just after a loaf is put in the oven and before the crust hardens.

Windowpane test – the term is used to describe the state of the dough when it has been kneaded/folded enough and has a strong gluten network. 

[1]~https://www.organicvalley.coop/blog/bob-quinn-modern-benefits-of-ancient-grains/

[2]~https://oi.uchicago.edu/research/research-archives-library/dissertations/grain-storage-and-moral-economy-mesopotamia-3000

[3]~https://www.breadandbasil.nyc/sourdough/sourdough-glossary#windowpane

More on Haiku, Senryu and the nomenclature of hybrids

Haiku and Senryu

A few weeks ago I explored the similarities and differences between Haiku and Senryu (Read here and here)while constructing a few of my own having being inspired by Richard Wright’s ‘Haiku: This Other World’ [1][2][3] Both forms contain seventeen morae or ‘on’ or syllables and are structured in three metrical phases of five/seven/five syllables and are unrhymed but it is the Haiku that usually has a thought pause. Senryu is about human nature, can depict humour, sarcasm, cynicism, opinion, philosophy etc while Haiku takes inspiration from nature, should contain a seasonal reference (kigo), a thought pause or a cutting word (kireji), should be succinct, Zen, austere and portray harmony of images.

The Haiku of Matsuo Basho

Matsuo Basho, the most distinguished Japanese poet of Haiku [4]explained best, man’s affinity with nature in his travelogue Oi no Kobumi (Manuscript in My Knapsack): One and the same thing runs through the waka of Saigyo, the renga of Sogi, the paintings of Sesshu, the tea ceremony of Rikyu. What is common to all these arts is their following nature and making a friend of the four seasons. Nothing the artist sees is but flowers, nothing he thinks of but is the moon. When what a man sees is not flowers, he is no better than a barbarian. When what he thinks in his heart is not the moon, he belongs to the same species as the birds and beasts. say, free yourselves from the barbarian, remove yourself from the birds and beasts; follow nature and return to nature! [5]

Contemporary insights

Hakutani and Tener, editors of Richard Wright’s compilation of Haiku [5] quote R. H. Blyth who writes thus about Haiku taking further from Basho’s position, an insight into what Haiku means, even today: the joy [in Haiku] comes from the “(apparent) re-union of ourselves with things.” It is the “happiness of being our true selves.” Austerity is not only a lack of intellectualization, it is almost a wordlessness, a condition in which words are used not to externalise a poet’s state of feeling, but to “clear thing,” according to Blyth, “that seems to stand between” the poet and real things. Because the real things are not actually separate from the poet, they “are then perceived by self- knowledge.” Certainly, haiku ideally removes as many words as possible, stressing non-intellectuality, as thought, like passion, must depend upon and not substitute for intuition. The joy lies in the humor, the lightness, the lack of sentimentality. Blyth states: “It goes down to something deeper than the unconscious where repressions wait with ill-concealed impatience. It goes beyond this into the realm where a thing is and is not at the same time, and yet at the very same time is.”

I find Blyth’s explanation along with that of Basho’s sets the yardstick of measure of great Haiku, of what is true to original form. Contemporary Haiku verse exhibit a flexible composition, which makes it tricky to navigate the 5/7/5 syllabic construction, which may quite as easily qualify as Senryu. Does a reference to the natural world in a verse with a philosophical concern or one based in metaphor, make a Senryu a Haiku or vice versa or can it be a new form entirely. I found an article by Elizabeth St Jacques [6]that helps solve this issue. She cites George Swede, the co-founder of Haiku Canada (1977) who provides, she says, the clearest and most logical answer. After studying haiku types, he came to the conclusion that English-language haiku consist of “three content categories”: Nature haiku, Human haiku (senryu), and Human plus nature haiku (hybrids).

Linked Haiku/Senryu hybrids as a meditative process

I created some hybrids that appear to blur the distinction between both forms, although I find that staying true to the original may be an acceptable challenge of maintaining discipline in poetic construction while preserving the essence of Haiku or of Senryu. The evolution of a separate form based on similarity of structure and pithy intent is inevitable, acceptable and should probably be given a new specific name and description. I wish it could be called something other than a hybrid. Bloggers and poets Mike and Bryan at their online magazine indirectly allude to this form as ‘Failed Haiku’, which is also the name of their blog. They have compiled a detailed resource guide for Haiku and Senryu that I found especially informative to read [7]

I should like to write Haiku like Matsuo Basho because it would appear to be a meditative exercise in attempting a certain degree of mindlessness, or as Blyth noted ‘non-intellectuality’, yet, Haiku along those principles is still profoundly thoughtful because its construction is intentional.

Exploring the nomenclature of hybrids in a new paradigm

The terms Haiku/Senryu can be confusing while classifying such hybrid poems, even as current descriptions stricture one within the accepted forms of composing either. Hybrids have evolved into a separate form altogether and I wanted to name specifically the style and process I use in composing verses to a 5/7/5 syllabic pattern, as well as the linked forms of the same. I looked through a range of popular terms used in the meditative practice of Kintsugi that could possibly apply to such hybrid Haiku. Kintsugi itself is the literal term for the gold joinery of accidentally broken ceramic, sealed in East Asian lacquer which is a resin made from the highly toxic sap of Rhus Verniciflua [8][9] a technique that emphasises the scars and imperfections in the finally reconstructed item. Thus kintsugi (as ceramic art or as meditation) embodies the principles of wabi-sabi (looking for beauty in imperfections, revering authenticity), gaman (the practice of dignified endurance), kansha (act of expressing gratitude for nature’s gifts), Eiyoshoku (nourishing the body), mottainai, (which expresses regret when something is wasted) and  mushin  (the acceptance of change) [10] All of these apply to my compositions, yet are not an exhaustive list. Even so, these are merely words, in a language I am not familiar with except for these terms in universal usage.

So I ventured to look for something  analogous within the organic world. Here, unlike in the material world, where objects can be created for pleasure or even broken to be fixed, it is the principle of adherence that finds resonance in the living, in the attachment of cells. In living organisms for example, the very basis of the evolution of multicellularity lies in the fundamental property of the ability of cells to adhere to one another. This is brought about by Cadherins, which are transmembrane cell–cell adhesion molecules, that have a role to play in cell signalling, in determining cell shapes and cell positions, triggering tissue morphogenesis etc. When cells contact each other, cadherins from the opposing cells located at the site of contact form trans-bonds across the contact [11] Interestingly, stained tissue viewed under a microscope under various interplays of light would appear to resemble Kintsugi (gold joinery) but all this within a structured yet fluid assemblage of cells , like in a 5/7/5 Haiku. Of course, it would be odd to name hybrid haiku/senryu after such calcium-dependent adhesion but this adherence of cells finds favour in my understanding of contemporary pithy 5/7/5 composition. Such hybrids are not about fixing brokenness or creating Frankensteins or simply observing the beauty of nature or measuring imperfections or life philosophies or spiritual practice or expressing witticisms. They are more like a fluid cellular organisation of disparate functions, still uniquely defining an intentional yet kinetic proliferation akin to existence ~ a cellular morphogenesis that simply appears to occur, yet adheres in a cohesive narrative, a matrix of tissue. Perhaps, such haiku/senryu hybrids, when linked in stream of consciousness style of writing, could be called adhesion haiku or adherence poetry or viscid haiku ? (haiku here simply refers to the recognisable 5/7/5 syllabic pattern. Viscid was first used in the 1630s and refers to something adhesive, mucilaginous, viscous). I am merely exploring but I will go with Viscid Haiku for my linked ‘not exactly haiku’ style of verse for now.

Viscid Haiku

I composed some today inspired by the mundane here and now and also moments accreted to memory. I would like to call this hybrid poetry process as babbling through a brook of  consciousness 🙂

I scored dough today,
bread flowered in the oven.
Earth kaleidoscopes.

Blather of sunshine
roused late blooms in feverish
hues. Embarrassed paths.

Orchid drops pale hues
onto a seasoned table.
There's always Autumn.

As underlayment,
foam muffles rushed footsteps. We,
never heard them leave.

Driving through New York.
Walking in Manhattan feels
like morbidity.

We travel common
googled itineraries,
breathe borrowed moments.

Water displaces
underground soil. Friends depart
and houses settle.

Sore eyes seek a page
and gravity haunts water.
Pen stole a moment ..

Delightful I find,
this kitchen spiralizer.
Geometric food.

Thunderstorms last night
felt like aliens messing
with clouds and fire.

There are many ways
to craft a photo booth light
box. Sun's always bright.

The book I'm reading
never ends. Thoughts cruising past
words to tomorrow.

References:

[1]~https://akitahaiku.com/what-are-haiku-senryu-and-tanka/

[2]~https://poetrysociety.org.nz/affiliates/haiku-nz/haiku-poems-articles/archived-articles/modern-senryu/

[3]~https://poetrysociety.org/features/on-poetry/senryu-the-haikus-comic-cousin

[4]~https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/basho

[5]~Wright, Richard:haiku – This other world, Edited by Hakutani, Yoshinobu and Tener, Robert

[6]~https://startag.tripod.com/HkSenDiff.html

[7]~https://failedhaiku.com/links/

[8]~https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/elac/hd_elac.htm

[9]~https://mymodernmet.com/kintsugi-kintsukuroi/

[10]~https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.nbcnews.com/better/amp/ncna866471

[11]~https://www.cell.com/current-biology/pdf/S0960-9822(13)00710-0.pdf

For September

I took this photo somewhere in Flatiron, Manhattan .. the picture is by artist named dirtCobdin

Hurricane Ida’s remnants created deadly havoc in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York days after the system hit the Gulf Coast — some 1,000 miles away (npr.org)

Yesterday, a cloud burst in mythologies 
and the rain fidgeted over the retreat

of a tidal pantheon; deities swept away
by a current, and we stood awhile, watching

the moon elbow out the dusk. Breathing
is burdensome when cars float on water

and corpses leak out of cavernous
basements. Every tablet, etched, in the cold

heart of building code was read again
and then again. It wasn't enough to blame

Aeolian whim or the raging riposte of Apollo,
now that we had marvelled away Gaia's

ozone skirt. Her amnion always leaked
in folkloric floods each time she birthed

a parable. She once asked Noah to build
an ark so he could ride her waves

and we scrape the sky to impale her 
in shards where her womb is soft and yielding,

as we sour the air and burn the water and strip
her of her emerald sigh and melt her hills

and silt her wetlands. Mostly it was the asphalt
plastering her yearning that calcified her veins

and arteries, as she died slowly under our feet
we could hardly fathom her sorrow for the tears

rolled off her torso like an oil slick
and rode far into the subway for sewers.

Notes on hurricane Ida:

Hurricane Ida was the second-most damaging hurricane to strike the U.S. state of Louisiana on record, behind only Hurricane Katrina. The remnants of hurricane killed at least 43 people in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut and left more than 150,000 homes without power on Wednesday, the first of September [1] The streets and subway platforms turned into rivers with the deluge of rain, people were trapped in their cars and some washed away by flash floods. A tornado (strength F-3) leveled houses in Mullica Hill, New Jersey with estimated winds of 150 miles per hour.

According to Tripti Bhattacharya (earth and environmental sciences at Syracuse University) whose research on regional rainfall and climate change was cited in the U.N.’s recent climate change report, hurricane Ida had just the right mix of weather conditions in place to fuel the system. The remnants of Ida met another system, an extra tropical front and combined to create heavy rainfall of er New York and New Jersey. Ida also spent time over a warm waters in the northern Gulf of Mexico which allowed it to intensify very quickly. As atmosphere warms due to the changing climate, it can hold more moisture which translates to excessive rainfall [2]

‘For every 1 degree Celsius of global warming, the atmosphere can hold roughly 7 percent more water vapor. Cities like New York are often more vulnerable to sudden downpours because so much of their land area is paved over with impervious surfaces like asphalt, which means that runoff is channeled into streets and sewers rather than being absorbed into the landscape’ [3]

There is need to take a hard look at city infrastructure, carbon emissions, infrastructure for improved and accurate weather forecasts in addition to looking at vulnerability maps and how that maps onto income for those that are hardest hit by such unpredictable weather.

The need for climate responsive architecture:

|Climate-responsive architecture functions in lockstep with the local climate(temperature, historical weather patterns, etc.), the direction of the sun (sun path and solar position), site-specific environmental conditions (such as wind, rainfall, humidity), seasonality and also taking into account the natural shade provided by the surrounding area and topography to design pleasant buildings which ensure physiological comfort of users, energy-efficient buildings with reduced reliance on artificial energy|[4]

References:

[1]~https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.nytimes.com/live/2021/09/02/nyregion/nyc-storm.amp.html

[2]~https://www.npr.org/2021/09/03/1034058911/hurricane-ida-climate-change-northeast-flooding-rainfall

[3]~https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/09/03/nyregion/nyc-flooding-ida#ida-delivery-workers-safety

[4]~https://www.re-thinkingthefuture.com/rtf-fresh-perspectives/a1060-what-architects-must-know-about-climate-responsive-architecture/

Dragonflies playing dead and other baseline studies for our trip to Mars

I love the moist and humid 

of marshland,

watching

tall grasses break

the surface of water,

simply wondering

what fish must silver

the shallows

or what reptile

slither a shiver

down the spine ..

I took these photos while we walked the trail at Lobster Cove meadow and Appalachee preserves in Boothbay Harbor. They look like a poem. At 46.8-acres,  this preserve boasts of a freshwater wetland, large field and a quite densely forested upland [1] I loved every part of it and given half a chance, I would have perhaps spent my morning sitting by that soupy ferment of grass and sodden earth, creating botanical drawings or writing floral poetry ..

.. but this prose poem is really about dragonflies and a lyrical questioning of the viability of some species of the order Odonata, on planets that humankind propose to relocate to. Of what use then, is a dragonfly?

I'm hypnotized by the dragonfly's

agile life path

or is it - a flight path?


On taxonomy ~


Marsh trails at Lobster Cove,

court me in grass -

resigned they are,

to the trample of feet,

or fate, in Maine,

land richly resplendent

in the iridescence

of one hundred and fifty five

species ---

emeralds, jewel wings, reds,

golds, pond damsels,

darners, skimmers, hawkers,

predators,

dragons that fly,

and this isn't metaphor..



I flee to be happily feral

in these teeming marshes,

soliloquising to this multitude.

This thick slice of populace,

if you police the species,

spawn irreverent ideas

of vagrants or migrants

or residents. Of these

I ladle millions with simply

the scoop of my hand,

from a steamy soupy puddle..

Hundreds of dragonflies

and damselflies,

are squadrons in the sky,

a flight arena weakening air.

They meld in a singular

poetic brush stroke

of airy romance

even as my botanical eye

purloins them from a vast kingdom

to stricture within an Order,

of specialised missions,

their godly wings for escort,

or those that pivot

to a singular pursuit

of combative intent

and thus, genus is recruited

to sub orders and

other such self effacement

There are 155 species of Odonata in Maine which include the 112 of  Anisoptera,  which is comprised only of dragonflies. These hold their wings horizontal to the surface they alight upon, while damselflies (Zygoptera), hold them vertical, this being an important criterion besides the eyes, for easy differentiation between both, although they look quite similar.  Beyond that, you could mull over the variation of  corrugation patterns, the curvature of the various ridges and deep valleys on the plane of the wing membrane, or wing span and attached musculature while considering that individuals within the same species vary considerably as also, between the species. Yet, it was of great interest to me, that measurements based on the wing profiles from a single wing of very few dried specimens spearheaded whole studies and scientific hypotheses on the effect of these morphological characteristics on aerodynamics of the dragonfly. 

It’s a dragonfly, I want to know why it flies .. so ..

.

.

Now imagine this complex wing architecture, the attached musculature that enables the independent movement of each of the four wings and the aerodynamic magic that propels the dragonfly through three dimensional trajectories, through space. The ability to manoeuvre in a way that they can fly backwards without any added expense of energy, their speed, agility and their capacity to hover, aids them in their remarkable predatory routines. It makes my heart skip a bit when I understand they exclusively intercept other flying insects while in flight, perhaps like humans attempt to do in aerial combat. These remarkable creatures can cruise, pursue, intercept while on their territorial flights, in chasing others like them or in stalking prey and some can even fly in formation.

Flying is arduous and requires efficient management of energy. In extensive studies of the relationship between the wing planform of Odonata and aerodynamic efficiency during flapping flight, it was found that dragonflies must generate 221% of the power that would be necessary to produce the same lift with perfect aerodynamic efficiency (i.e. from an ideal ‘actuator disc’ or ‘lifting line’ in laboratory conditions). Damselflies, operate with a less efficient wing shape in comparison and have to generate 275% of the power that would be required under ideal conditions, simply to fly [6] The overarching question in these studies of wingspan efficiency is, why are insect wing shapes so variable. No one has yet discovered an optimal solution from the standpoint of aerodynamics as insects have several adaptive and non-adaptive factors that contribute to wing shape, and only some of these adaptations will have any aerodynamic or mechanical relevance.

Currently, no suitable wing model exists, to replicate what is experienced by the mechanosensors present on the wings of these living creatures, that are responsible for relaying sensory signals required to power a flight. Eliciting predictable and repeatable flight responses in laboratory conditions has been tricky as well, but most importantly, inorder to generalize and validate flight strategies in the real world, field recordings are essential, but we find that a reliable field data logger for Odonata is yet to be developed.

Thus it stands, we do not understand many things about dragonflies and there are several reasons to continue to study them, least of all that such research will advance humankind’s understanding of unsteady aerodynamics, flight control, sensory integration and the evolution of flight [6] but each dragonfly has its own unique functional design and form, therefore, the task of learning about the metabolic cost of flying to each organism and drawing conclusions thus about flight strategies, is much more complicated than it appears. Until now, no human to the best of my knowledge, has produced a successful dragonfly except for another dragonfly.

My need to know and understand arises as a matter of habit, marking with gravitas this breezy situation which sometimes, a marsh walk can be. When I excitedly tell my husband about surprising facts I come across , I mean, who can not notice the science of it on a leisurely walk .. he wonders the same as I, why one’s mind cannot quite exult and float, elated on fresh air and sunshine alone 😄 Well, I try …

.. not to think of some innovative blueprint for a new drone, designed perhaps like a dragonfly or a damselfly, or scientific research pondering the inefficiency of those horizontally or vertically held wings, that somehow refuse to be consistent in their shape and size [5] There I am, in a marsh, dragonflies in a flight arena of sky, exhibiting the same tendencies as the rest of the sentient species and I realise, there isn’t enough grass nor sky for everyone. There are entire societies at play here not to feel crowded out, and I, a bystander, looking from the outside at their arduous frolicking and wondering of the aggressive sexual behaviour of dragonflies that suddenly taints every romantic vision of earth and sky that I would like to weave into my marshy poetry. Somehow, writing lyrically of how happy I am to see dragonflies engaged in territorial displays over grass, is akin to admitting I enjoy bullfights or so I think and I laugh, for I do or maybe I don’t. In all seriousness though, it prods me to think of the limits of acceptance, a virtue we are smug to extol, or of the questions we are reluctant to frame …

Do you know how we map 

the flight of consciousness ?

I think that is what it is ..

the question I mean.


I wish I could veil my glance

in poetry, blissful membranous

euphemism, like lined coffins

for the dead but I would be

unfeeling not to notice

the corrugations in

those angelic wings.


Is everywhere the place

where the glade is pleasant,

the woods cheerful,

the waters run deep ?


Sometimes, all those things, yes 

and the female of the species

dropped dead. It startled me

from my airbrushed soliloquy, 

for blade strokes -

aerodynamic, iridescent

in a viridescent marsh,

had squelched irony

from the maw of design.


Nymphs in the shallows,

are a Neverland

of eternal childhood.

In the wake

of an artful airlift

for angelic pursuit,

are embattled skies

of conflictual ardour,

and comically painful

those cerci on neck ..


The kama sutra of aerodynamic love

yields outlines of hearts,

lyrical hymns to creatures

great, cherubic, winged,

but the females fake death

to squadrons of a militant

genetic drive.



Will we need dragonflies on Mars

with no oxygen nor water to monitor?

And what use a desultory

Martian anthropomorphisation

as it bites the barren of dust?


Each wingspan a solitary delight,

those 180 degree flips

three dimensional trajectories

of love, for survival of the species

through nicks and bruises ..

Mating in dragonflies is a unique affair in that it involves serious terms like tandem linkage and wheel formation and a great deal of aggression [7] It is highly acrobatic sport and eventually a mating pair forms this heart shape as in the picture above. The male first grabs a female by the back of her neck with claspers at the end of his abdomen that are called cerci which are structural appendages that actually fit into species-specific grooves in the female. Once this tandem linkage is established, the actual consummation takes place which is quite interesting but involves sexual gymnastics involving abdominal segments and appendages for scooping out of rival sperm, some vicious territoriality, pursuit of multiple suitors and a very tired female at the end [8] The high male-biased ratio in adult dragonflies at breeding habitats, has in part, contributed to females using different habitats to avoid male harassment.

Females of some species of dragonflies (Female moorland hawkers or Aeshna juncea for example) are vulnerable to being harassed when laying eggs since they aren’t protected by their male mates. This isn’t the case with all dragonflies but many of the species exhibit sexual conflict. In Moorland hawkers for instance, eggs are usually fertilised in a single sexual encounter with a male, and copulating again could damage their reproductive tract so after the act, females crash dive to the ground at very high speeds and fake death [9]

As I marvel at the dragonfly, I appreciate what humans can learn and possibly unlearn from our compatriots on this sometimes green and golden earth, while I question if there is more to the poetry of the species than simply one upmanship, mean spiritedness, lusty escapades, romantic illusions and other attributes of our inherent genetic propensity, that mainly drive every conflict, every conquest, every war and all tribalism.

How much of dragonfly do we wish to be, plainly rhetorical musing …

There were mushrooms too ..
I thought this looked like living sculpture ..

References:

[1]~https://www.mainetrailfinder.com/trails/trail/lobster-cove-meadow-and-appalachee-preserves

[2]~https://maineanencyclopedia.com/dragonflies/

[3](Gives a list of species found in Maine and their distribution) ~https://www.jstor.org/stable/3858343

[4]~https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/geb.12758

[5]~https://www.google.com/amp/s/phys.org/news/2014-11-secret-dragonflies-flight.amp

[6]~https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rstb.2015.0389

[7]~https://www.thoughtco.com/how-dragonflies-mate-1968255

[8]~https://www.livescience.com/43206-animal-sex-dragonflies.html

[9]~https://www.newscientist.com/article/2129185-female-dragonflies-fake-sudden-death-to-avoid-male-advances/