The Expanse

I thought I’d celebrate having finally read one half of this touching account of non-humans by Peter Wohlleben in his book,  ‘The Inner Life of Animals’. It is as interesting as it looks and the author has shared many personal anecdotes featuring his funny goats, oversexed fowl, timekeeping dog, intelligent pigs, friendly ravens and individualistic bees among stories of other animals.

I thought I should write something simple today on the little wildlife I have seen in the East African Savannah and parse out the idea of the expanse of the heart. It’s a plain poem and with no beginning nor end, it is simply meditative.

The cappuccino features my husband’s chocolate art
The Expanse

Is the heart as large and dusty as the Savannah?

Does it have little green oases of muddy ponds where feelings glint off the surface in mirroring the passion of the Sun? 

Do pink dollops of hippo-esque affections wallow in their murky depths? 

The thorny mistrustful acacias too sigh softy in their parsimonious giving as the giraffes synapse with them, all the while puckering and kissing their moody leaves.

The Impala meditate a quickened pulse while they inhale the day and exhale the night.

The lions survive simply stressing them out but the fleas get the lions too, like karma.

Sometimes the fiery orb burns away the brittle surfeit of rigid grass to make way for vital green and the guinea fowl congregate on the living plains like happy heartbeats.

Ovid on Apollo and Daphne, Revisited

Sometime in the first century BC the Roman poet Publius Ovidius Naso, popularly known as Ovid was banished to a fishing village on the edges of the Roman Empire, by Augustus, the first emperor of Rome, for what Ovid described as ‘carmen et error’ or ‘a poem and a mistake’, where he remained in exile until his death in AD 17 [1] His seminal work, Metamorphoses and the poetry therein is what brought me to revisit the tale of Daphne and Apollo. I feel inclined to parse the esoteric bound in this story, but I think Ovid’s (now controversial) handling of this popular mythology was a great way to begin an appreciation of it.

His three-volume lovers’ handbook, Ars Amatoria (The Art of Love) may have been his undoing. A contemporary of the older Virgil but quite unlike him in seeking not to ingratiate himself within the emperor’s favour, Ovid’s books perhaps made a mockery of the moral reforms by Augustus. Adultery, for example, which was always illegal in Rome, was now severely scrutinised and punished by law and it has been surmised that Ovid may have had an affair with the royal women or may have witnessed a royal scandal that incited the emperor’s wrath that led to his eventual banishment. It is exile that drove him to write the famous couplet, which sounds like a death knell to any poet, “writing a poem you can read to no one / is like dancing in the dark.” He was forced to make Tomis on the Black Sea coast (Constanța in modern-day Romania) his home, which was so remote a place, that even Latin was rarely spoken. 

Ovid Banished from Rome (1838) by J.M.W. Turner. J. M. W. Turner – The Athenaeum (

His distress at being silenced thus by the emperor, is suggested to have (according to Marguerite Johnson, Associate Professor of Ancient History and Classical Languages, University of Newcastle) – “been enacted over and over again in the ‘Metamorphoses’ in the most grotesque of ways. Ovid’s tales describe tongues being wrenched out, humans barking out their sorrows instead of crying, women transformed into mute creatures by jealous gods, and desperate victims bearing witness to their abuse through non-verbal means”. She says, “The Metamorphoses is an epic about the act of silencing. Jealousy, spite, lust and punishment are also consistently present in Ovid’s chaotic world. So is rape”. [2] It sounds like a death spiral for a poet, to have wound his thoughts into an Ant Mill of sorts, while mulling over the abuse of power and constraints of powerlessness through an incessantly looping consciousness, that’s expressed plainly though his poetry.

It was in an episode of the BBC radio 4: In our time, produced by Simon Tillotson, that Melvyn Bragg discussed Ovid with guests Maria Wyke, Gail Trimble and Dunstan Lowe, academics from separate universities of the UK, aired recently in April, 2021. It was what spiked my interest in Ovid’s exile by Augustus due to his ‘carmen et error‘ which led to his unbridled creative outpouring. It was in the way he handled mythical themes given the background that made me look into his poem on the story of Apollo and Daphne. Reworked ancient myths through interpretations which reflect the land, language and powers that be a poet swears allegiance to, can utterly confound someone two millennia later, whose only source of information is fragments of original work through the eyes of those that deemed such texts important. When one speaks neither classical Latin nor ancient Greek, the alternative is to study the possibly diluted and embellished stories of writers in a long line of those that translated and interpreted Ovid who in turn interpreted the work of the Greeks. ‘Metamorphoses’ itself is a highly poetic work, composed in dactylic hexameter that merits attention along with the vivid imagination of the poet. Why he chose to write the way he did was controversial, even for his own time.

I was particulary struck by his poem that recites the tale of the God Apollo and the nymph, Daphne in Book 1: Lines 473 – 567 of the Metamorphoses [3] It’s a story of power, arrogance, fear and more disturbingly, attempted rape. The classicist Amy Richlin who applies feminist theory to Ovid’s most famous work and the rapes described therein, has noted “The silenced victims, the artists horribly punished by legalistic gods for bold expression … read like allegories of Ovid’s experience …”[4] Perhaps, Ovid was resignedly reliving his own treatment at the hands of the powerful Augustus.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680), Apollo and Daphne, 1622-25, marble, Galleria Borghese, Rome. Photo source: Alvesgaspar / Wikimedia Commons.

His fifteen book epic in Latin Hexameter was written sometime in AD 3-8, he wrote of the ‘Ages of Man’ where Gods and men moved from across the ages through Gold, then silver to bronze and finally to Iron, where mankind struggles against increasing corruption, endures brutality and injustice [5] It has been observed in Vedic literature that mankind is in the current age of Kaliyuga, where man is known to be farthest from his spiritual development. The stories may have been based on etiological myths but they delve into a fearful realm of power dynamics that strike closer to home than the distant stars they may be based upon. It’s a powerful poem and disturbing enough that it has been suggested, trigger warnings be provided to university students who study this work, as it is a roller coaster of sex, violence, censorship, abjection, depravity and gender politics.

I have particularly enjoyed Lachlan Mackinnon’s take on Ovid: Apollo and Daphne that appeared in Vol. 17 (January 1995) of the London Review of Books [6] The original translation from Latin is also available at Wikisource [7] and at the Theoi texts library [8]. They are short reads of less than a hundred lines. Jason, who blogs at Philosophical Therapist has done a wonderful analysis of the poem through a therapist’s perspective [9] Ruben Cordova has created a collage of the various works of art depicting the pursuit of Daphne by Apollo that include the most famous, Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s , Apollo and Daphne, c.1622-25, marble displayed at the Galleria Borghese in Rome to Francesco Albani’s Apollo and Daphne, c. 1615-1620, oil on copper mounted on wood, housed at the Louvre Museum in Paris among others [10].

Apollo, the Olympian and God of music, medicine, poetry, light, archery, art, plague, oracles and knowledge, came to be associated with the Titan Helios, during Hellenistic times, especially in the fifth century BC as the personification of the Sun. It was Utu or Shamash in ancient Sumerian myths who was the God of the Sun and divine justice. The Romans, eventually considered Sol as the God of the Sun, separate from Apollo.

Apollo killing Python. A 1581 engraving by Virgil Solis for Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book I (Source ~ Wikipedia)

There are varied views on what is considered to be an etiological myth that has possessed the imagination of scholars, artists and the public over many centuries. It is how Ovid depicts in his poetry, the brilliant and possibly most beautiful Graeco-Roman God of the sun, music, poetry, eloquence and archery that helped spawn creative imaginings over the years. The story itself tells of Apollo who having slayed Python, the progeny of Terra or (Gaia in Greek mythology), confronts the romantic, cherubic Cupid with an air of contempt while saying to him:

What are you doing with such manly arms,
lascivious boy? That bow befits our brawn,
… we managed to lay low the mighty Python,
whose pestilential belly covered acres!
Content yourself with kindling love affairs
with your wee torch—and don’t claim our glory! [10: from Charles Martin’s 2005 prose translation]
Cupid (Source ~ Wikipedia)

Such arrogance kindles a certain vengefulness in Cupid or by various accounts, Eros ( in Greek myths, the son of Aphrodite with Ares or in Roman myths, the son of Venus and Mars or Venus and Mercury) who does not take kindly to such humiliation and proceeds to set the myth in motion, with much vindictiveness, if one were to follow Mackinnon’s humour filled version of Ovid’s Apollo and Daphne [6]

He stretched and flew off to a toehold on Parnassus,
aimed with his left arm and let slip two arrows.
The first was lead, a sullen, lightless shade:
it shivered when it struck white Daphne’s heart and sent her
into her father’s arms to vow life-long virginity.
The second, golden arrow pierced Apollo with such
fire that it seemed his bones burned with desire.
One glimpse of Daphne seared along his heart
the way a careless cigarette-end lights a hayfield.

Enters the scene, the nymph Daphne, the beautiful daughter of the River God Peneus, a virgin huntress of the goddess Artemis [11] sworn to not answer to her father’s wishes along the lines of marriage or progeny:

Often her father has said, “daughter you owe me a son-in-law,”
Often her father has said, “daughter, you owe me grandsons”;
to which she replies: “O dearest father, allow me to enjoy perpetual
maidenhood! Previously Diana’s father allowed this.”[7][Wikisource]

The rest of the poem is, as you hold your breath, the image of a God overtaken by lust and a nymph reluctant to his advances, in a chillingly fearful escape. It is a myth so vividly poetised that it spawned marble sculptures, suggestive paintings, racing heartbeats and trigger warnings to university students. Ovid describes the flight of Daphne and compares it to a frightened animal. In fact Apollo’s entreaties to her are to remain still or stay herself and not run like a frightened hare or a deer, all the while that he pursues her like a skilled hunter. His advantages betray him for in the very moment as he gains on her, Daphne cries out to her father:

“Father, bring help! O Rivers, if you have divinity,
destroy my shape by which I’ve pleased too much, by changing it!” [7]
Peneus averts his gaze as Apollo, pierced by Cupid’s arrow of desire, pursues Daphne, transforming into the laurel (Apollo and Daphne, 1625, by Poussin) (Source ~ Wikipedia)

In a sad twist of fate, she turns into a laurel tree, her heart beating within, as Apollo finally holds her in embrace and caresses the bark that has encased her once soft bosom. As she remains rooted to the ground, her arms branch out into laurel leaves that quiver under his embrace where:

Phoebus Apollo admired and loved the graceful tree, (For still, though changed, her slender form remained) and with his right hand lingering on the trunk he felt her bosom throbbing in the bark. He clung to the trunk and branch as though to twine. His form with hers, and fondly kissed the wood that shrank from every kiss. And thus the God; “Although thou canst not be my bride, thou shalt be called my chosen tree, and thy green leaves, O Laurel! shall forever crown my brows, be wreathed around my quiver and my lyre; the Roman heroes shall be crowned with thee, as long processions climb the Capitol and chanting throngs proclaim their victories; and as a faithful warden thou shalt guard the civic crown of oak leaves fixed between thy branches, and before Augustan gates. And as my youthful head is never shorn, so, also, shalt thou ever bear thy leaves unchanging to thy glory.” Here the God, Phoebus Apollo, ended his lament, and unto him the Laurel bent her boughs, so lately fashioned; and it seemed to him her graceful nod gave answer to his love. {Line 553 in [8]}
Apollo and Daphne by Piero del Pollaiolo from Wikipedia

I find a strong sense of mirroring of the Apollo/Daphne myth in social nature that begs to strive for the separation of the emotional from the physical or even distance the connection between these aspects so as to deal with them as separate manifestations. Why ever would Apollo not be aware of the need to temper his desire for Daphne with more than a transient feeling of lust? In fact, the presence of Cupid as triggering it, absolves Apollo of having agency to his own actions. He desires Daphne as another conquest, an expression of his power as a God. On the other hand, Daphne does not act contrarily to what she had originally indicated to her father, that she wished to remain devoted to her cause as a virgin huntress. Sexual dynamics are often a sore point in human society visible especially in the laws devised around them where perhaps, reproductive success has been the basis for tribal exclusivities. Is it any wonder that a desirable brilliant God like Apollo should be shunned by a beautiful Nymph in Daphne, replaying perpetually and surreptitiously, a moral code for women while presenting through such a convoluted idea, the recipe for masculine success. What else should one surmise out of a quivering evergreen laurel fashioned into a wreath for every Roman hero in the arboreal paralysis of a Daphne? Had she lived, Apollo would not have simply parted her limbs, for in death too he has shorn them off her, simply to adorn himself.

Perhaps there is something esoteric bound in this tale, some opaque cosmogony about the universe and its descent into chaos or its manifestation from it, but such an idea appears quite insipid next to mythic erotica suggestive of attempted rape. This is hardly disguised in the literary fancies of the ages that seek the erotic in only the sexual.

Is there really to be a separation of desire or lust from love for a story to possess the imagination of mankind? A fire for example, cannot in itself be considered destructive to life nor would a river be equipped to simply drown a heartbeat. There is the ontological in the coexistence of Apollo and Daphne, like those underwater volcanoes on Earth or the ice caps on a meltingly hot Venus* [12] or more recently tectonic motion on the morning star, that move like broken chunks of pack ice** [13] that inspires one to seek meaning in a myth that hides more than it reveals.

I was quite impressed by Lachlan Mackinnon’s take on Ovid’s poem, so much so, that it inspired me to attempt a reconfiguration of the Apollo/Daphne myth. I have chosen to construct a poem based on this, set to the origin of the cosmos, to reinterpret the attempted violence as well as the gender bias; to reclaim the myth for the esoteric that it veils. It’s a work in progress and I should post it tomorrow or this week at least, since it turned out to be of epic length and needs to be trimmed to finesse. Thank you for reading !

BBC Radio 4: In our time philosophy ~ Ovid, aired on 29th April 2021 ~


*The data on Venus obtained by Mariner V and Venera 4 are interpreted as evidence of giant polar ice caps holding the water that must have come out of the volcanoes with the observed carbon dioxide, on the assumption that Earth and Venus are of similar composition and volcanic history [12]

**A new analysis of radar images taken by NASA’s Magellan mission, which mapped the surface of Venus in the early 1990s, revealed evidence of tectonic motion. This motion on the Venusian surface looks like blocks of crust that have moved against one another, much like broken chunks of pack ice. Pack ice are the large pieces of floating ice that can be seen in a mass together in polar seas, like the waters around Antarctica [13]

On Kundalini Awakening: According to Tantra, kundalini energy rests like a coiled serpent at the base of the spine. When this dormant energy flows freely upward through the seven chakras (energy centers) and leads to an expanded state of consciousness, it’s known as a kundalini awakening [14]

On Oceanus: Oceanus, in Greek mythology, was the river that flowed around the Earth (conceived as flat). Beyond it, to the west, were the sunless land of the Cimmerii, the country of dreams, and the entrance to the underworld. In Hesiod’s Theogony, Oceanus was the oldest Titan, the son of Uranus (Heaven) and Gaea (Earth), the husband of the Titan Tethys, and father of 3,000 stream spirits and 3,000 ocean nymphs. In the Iliad, Book XIV, Oceanus is identified once as the begetter of the gods and once as the begetter of all things; although the comments were isolated, they were influential in later thinking [15][16]

Eros: Eros, in Greek religion, god of love. In the Theogony of Hesiod (fl. 700 BCE), Eros was a primeval god, son of Chaos, the original primeval emptiness of the universe, but later tradition made him the son of Aphrodite, goddess of sexual love and beauty, by either Zeus (the king of the gods), Ares (god of war and of battle), or Hermes (divine messenger of the gods). Eros was a god not simply of passion but also of fertility [17] Eros was multiplied by ancient poets and artists into a host of Erotes (Roman Cupides). The singular Eros, however, remained distinct in myth. It was he who lit the flame of love in the hearts of the gods and men, armed with either a bow and arrows or a flaming torch. Eros was often portrayed as the disobedient but fiercely loyal child of Aphrodite [18]

A note on Sumerian, Greek and Roman Sun Gods through the millennia: Utu (also known as Shamash, Samas, and Babbar) is the Sumerian god of the sun and divine justice. The Titan deities in Greek mythology preceded the Olympian deities and while Helios is a Titan God of the Sun, Apollo is Olympian and presides over much more as the god of Music, Art, Archery, Plague, Poetry, Medicine, Light, Oracles and Knowledge. It is from the 5th century BCE that Apollo, originally a deity of radiant purity, was more and more interpreted as a sun god. Under the Roman Empire the sun itself came to be worshipped as the Unconquered Sun or Sol [20]






















The Broken Column ~ Ekphrasis; A Tribute To Frida Kahlo

There must have been a reason why we landed at a very distinctively Mexican restaurant yesterday. I believe Frida Kahlo orchestrated it (magical synchronicity and all that) given it is the week of her birth and death anniversary. The former was on the sixth of July and the latter is tomorrow, the thirteenth of this month. We hadn’t planned the day except for a visit to a microbrewery in the middle of nowhere; we weren’t hungry either, but this establishment stood like a piñata in that same ‘middle of nowhere’ and we simply had to visit. The restaurant is named after the Spanish word for ‘strength’, so it came as no surprise that the walls featured the very epitome of strength, Frida Kahlo herself. 

As an artist who lived most of the 47 years of her life with the legacy of polio in her right leg, a major bus accident that drove an iron rod through her pelvis and uterus, multiple surgeries, a leg amputation, two abortions, a miscarriage, spinal deformity and personal tumult, she elevated her life in her long colorful skirts, huipiles (embroidered square-cut top)rebozos (traditional Mexican shawls), elaborate resplandors or headdresses and layers of jewelry, her vivid art, her strong opinions, her international travel with her paintings, her love life, her political causes and her tremendous strength [1]

There is so much written about her art as a painter, but she has also been a bit of a poet. I discovered a few of her writings yesterday that are mostly about her time with her husband, prominent Mexican artist and possibly, the love of her life, Diego Rivera. They are like prose poems, excerpts from her letters to Rivera, published long after her death and are therefore extremely personal and filled with words, vividly passionate. I found a poem Kahlo wrote to Rivera (from Frida el pincel de la angustia ~ Martha Zamora) translated by Claudia Rodriguez at her blog  [2] that is particularly striking in that it captures Kahlo’s  relationship with the artist. I think it is an exquisite poem written by an artist about herself.

Frida Kahlo Poem Dedicated To Diego Rivera
Translation by Claudia Rodriguez

In saliva
on the paper
in the eclipse.
In all the lines
in all the colors
in all the jars
in my chest
outside, inside
in the inkwell
in the difficulties in writing
in the wonderment of my eyes
in the last moons of the sun
(the sun doesn’t have any moons) in everything
To say in everything is imbecile and magnificent.
Diego in my urine- Diego in my mouth- in my heart, in my
madness, in my dream, in the blotting paper- in the tip of the pen,
in the pencils- in the landscapes- in the food- in metal-
in my imagination. In my sickness- in the ruptures- in his
lapels—in his eyes-in his mouth-in his lie.

Kahlo, Frida. in “Frida el pincel de la angustia. Zamora, Martha. La Herradura, Mexico. 1987.

We have always enjoyed the movie soundtrack of Salma Hayek’s ‘Frida’, that features great artists like Chavela Vargas, Lila Downs, Caetano Veloso and even the Trio, Marimberos and my husband even played it for me through the evening, so it was doubly inspiring to write this post. I was truly fascinated by what I discovered about Kahlo’s writing. Most of what I found appears to be written to, or for, Diego Rivera.

Maria Popova, at her blog, Brainpickings, features a collection of Kahlo’s poetic letters to Rivera, (from ‘The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait’ ) that are definitely worth a look. Popova describes them as stretching across the twenty-seven-year span of Kahlo’s relationship with Rivera, that speak of ‘the profound and abiding connection the two shared, brimming with the seething cauldron of emotion with which all fully inhabited love is filled: elation, anguish, devotion, desire, longing, joy and breathless intensity.’ I liked particularly, the fifth one, in which Kalho makes a mention of the day after her birthday and what I understood to be an exhortation to herself. She writes of the simplicity of senseless song and the folly of wind in her heart. I find it beautiful, considering her turbulent life was very public, that her writing should reveal such intimately wrung emotions, which actually hint at her fiery and feisty optimism [3]

At Brainpickings, (Source: Public Library)
For my Diego 
the silent life giver of worlds, what is most important is the nonillusion. morning breaks, the friendly reds, the big blues, hands full of leaves, noisy birds, fingers in the hair, pigeons’ nests a rare understanding of human struggle simplicity of the senseless song the folly of the wind in my heart = don’t let them rhyme girl = sweet xocolatl [chocolate] of ancient Mexico, storm in the blood that comes in through the mouth — convulsion, omen, laughter and sheer teeth needles of pearl, for some gift on a seventh of July, I ask for it, I get it, I sing, sang, I’ll sing from now on our magic — love.

Frida Kahlo was a passionate woman if her paintings are any measure. Many of her magnificent self portraits strike a nerve; in fact when in January 1939 she sailed to Paris to stage an exhibition of her work, where with the aid of Marcel Duchamp she was able to arrange for one at the Renou et Colle Gallery, they refused to show all but two of her paintings, considering them too shocking for audiences [1] Diego Rivera had a great influence on her work just as she had on his, ever since she married him at 22, a ‘dove’ to his ‘elephant’, a beauty juxtaposed against his features of remarkable contrast; one would wonder as many did then, including her parents, why she chose to marry him and then remarry him again, despite the hurt she felt with his serial infidelities the same as hers [4] For all appearances they seemed a powerful couple that stayed together simply perhaps to love or torment each other or so it would appear from her letter to Rivera just before the amputation of her leg in 1953 [5], the text of which appears in ‘Letters of Note‘, a compulsive collection of the world’s most entertaining, inspiring and powerful letters with love at their heart.

The letter is colourful, with very little euphemism and I have chosen a couple of passages that reflect her angst at, how she termed it, ‘amputating’ Diego Rivera from her life. I must admit, I was quite humoured by the text despite the seriousness of the circumstance. She addressed them to ‘Mr. Diego’:

~ since I’ve never been able to understand what you looked and look for, what they give you that I couldn’t. Let’s not fool ourselves, Diego, I gave you everything that is humanly possible to offer and we both know that. But still, how the hell do you manage to seduce so many women when you’re such an ugly son of a bitch?

Further along:

The reason why I’m writing is not to accuse you of anything more than we’ve already accused each other of in this and however many more bloody lives. It’s because I’m having a leg cut off (damned thing, it got what it wanted in the end). I told you I’ve counted myself as incomplete for a long time, but why the fuck does everybody else need to know about it too? Now my fragmentation will be obvious for everyone to see, for you to see.

She had a strong sense of self pride for certain but then she also goes on to say:

I’m writing to let you know I’m releasing you, I’m amputating you. Be happy and never seek me again. I don’t want to hear from you, I don’t want you to hear from me. If there is anything I’d enjoy before I die, it’d be not having to see your fucking horrible bastard face wandering around my garden.

That is all, I can now go to be chopped up in peace.

Good bye from somebody who is crazy and vehemently in love with you,

Your Frida

Whew !! 😅 I believe Diego was simply a front to the real anguish over losing a precious limb. Surprisingly, the amputation of her leg didn’t kill her in 1953 despite the many infections that wouldn’t heal. In fact, she had a sexy prosthetic boot made for herself, embellished in dragons and bells.

Prosthetic leg with leather boot. Museo Frida Kahlo. Photograph Javier Hinojosa. ©Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Archives, Banco de México, Fiduciary of the Trust of the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Museums [7][8]

In her last days though, Kahlo was mostly bedridden and seemed to be aware of her approaching death, which she spoke of to her visitors, while she drew skeletons and angels in her diary. Her last drawing was a black angel, interpreted by her biographer Hayden Hererra as the Angel of Death, accompanied by the last words she wrote, “I joyfully await the exit – and I hope never to return – Frida” (“Espero Alegre la Salida – y Espero no Volver jamás”). She succumbed to pulmonary embolism, or perhaps an overdose of painkillers at around 6 a.m. on 13 July 1954 [1] Whichever may have been the case, she left very passionate art behind and some interesting writing.

I decided on an ekphrastic exercise today, based on one of her paintings and all the images I took of the murals of her, yesterday, one of which was actually in the Ladies room. In my reading of Frida Kahlo over the years, she comes accross as someone with a great deal of courage and exuberance; her way of coming to terms with her own deformity appears to be through her art. Rivera, I would like to believe, was simply a foil, a contrivance. Rather than focus on her debilitating physical condition, she focussed on him and it that, lay her redemption and transcendence. Nothing appears surreal in her art or life, it all seems painfully real and I feel happy to write a poem to a woman like her.

I chose for the ekphrasis, her painting, ‘The Broken Column’ (La Columna Rota in Spanish) [6], an oil on masonite, painted in 1944, shortly after she had surgery on her spinal column, The original painting is housed at the Museo Dolores Olmedo in Xochimilco, Mexico City in Mexico. It appears to me, her paintings were a way to exorcise her physical pain. Kahlo comes across as a very vibrant, vivid character with a zest for life and the urge to publicly display herself. Some called her paintings a self obsession. When asked once why she so often portrayed herself in her works, Frida replied that it was because she was always alone and because she herself was what she knew best. The paintings are painfully heart-rending but I wished to view ‘the broken column’ as something healing, transformative, so this exphrasis is to rehabilitate the ‘brokenness’ in her painting, and give it a home in a poem, on the eve of her death anniversary. This one is for Frida Kahlo.

The Broken Column, 1944 self-portrait by Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo. Frida Kahlo/Museo Dolores Olmedo – Source: Wikipedia
The Broken Column ~ Frida Kahlo 
An Ekphrastic Exercise

The dark lady arrives,
stealthily resplendent
in her silk shawl, kohled
eyes, pouting, the kiss.
Would you refuse her?
She does not seek you to die.
Death is simply a cheap gift
that bankrupts the world
in your demise. No !
The dark lady
only wonders
at the contrivances
of your lust for life.

So, you affixed
an Ionic column
with a fluted phallus
and four volutes; no Acanthus
leaf, not even Fig for shame,
as it crumbled to mere bones
of vertebrae that failed
your centre of gravity.

So, you danced transfixed
by her skeletal gaze,
and girdled your passions
in a metal brace;
sharp women's things,
like bound feet, stilettos,
catwalks and corsets.
They held skin and bone
as you danced alone,
on one good leg, but why
dance on feet when you can
pirouette in the sky.

So you pinned, pointed
and spread yourself
like oil on Masonite,
a butterfly painting,
the remnants of chrysalis
now merely a silk rebozo.

The dark lady smiles,
as the pain lacerates
your eyes and you
drip poems in blood
on virgin canvas
urging her to look away
one more time,
and she concedes,
for she likes
that you found yourself
through a broken column.

~ davina e. solomon

[2]Kahlo, Frida. in “Frida el pincel de la angustia. Zamora, Martha. La Herradura, Mexico. 1987~


An Ode To The Evergreen Magnolia

I discovered a fragrantly flowering Great Laurel Magnolia on my walk today. This plant blooms from late spring to early summer and can be found in the southeastern United States, from southeast Virginia to central Florida and then across to East Texas and Oklahoma and even as far North as Maine. Often growing on the edges of swamps or large bodies of water, this tree prefers moist soil but cannot tolerate inundation [1] Also known as Southern Magnolia, it has one of the most strongly scented flowers in the world [2] so I hovered a bit longer like a hummingbird.

Magnolia grandiflora as it is scientifically named, is the official state tree of Mississippi and its flowers are the official state flower of Louisiana. The generic name of Magnolia was in honour of the French botanist, Pierre Magnol, a professor of botany and medicine at Montpelier, who died in 1715. It is also called the Evergreen magnolia for it does not shed its leaves in the temperate climes.

Now imagine this genus Magnolia, the majority of which species occur in East and South East Asia, where a little over only one-quarter of the species are natives of the New World, from the North East United States (one species just extending into Canada) to northern parts of South America. More than half of the entire species are tropical, thus it should come as no surprise that the Flora of China published in 2008 (Xia et al. 2008) consists of a separate taxonomy for the genus Magnolia that the Chinese botanists adhere to [3]. Botanical nomenclature under the current International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants (ICN) is quite an effective way of establishing plant identity and there’s a tremendous amount of effort that goes into identifying and naming plants, but classifying them taxonomically requires scientific consensus as the agreement on circumscriptions (or the content of a taxon) is not governed by the Codes of Botanical Nomenclature. The delimitations therefore or circumscriptions of many taxa that had been regarded as stable for decades, like in Magnolia for instance, are in a state of flux, given the rapid developments in molecular phylogenetics [4] This may be of interest to a plant enthusiast.

The use of Latin, for plant binomial nomenclature does well for academics, horticulturists and enthusiasts, but it is actually the vernacular names (which have no code of governing bodies to subscribe and adhere to) that add layers of charm to a plant. Now, Magnolia grandiflora is also called Bull bay because many broad-leaved evergreen trees are known as bays (many Magnolias for example), with this species thus named for its huge size of leaf and because cattle have been reported eating these. I couldn’t find any other literature than this reference in support for this reasoning. [5]

A paper I read, that makes the case for recording, preserving and documenting local names of plants says “local names play a very important role in the ethnobotanical study of a specific tribe or region. Local names given to plants by indigenous people in their local dialects often reflect a broad spectrum of information on their understanding of plants. Most often, the local names are given based on some salient features, e.g. appearance, shape, size, habit, habitat, smell, taste, colour, utility, and other peculiar characteristics of the plants.” [6] Common names help situate a plant in our immediate context and environment by adding layers of meaning to their existence and ours. It enables us to take ownership of the surrounds and become aware and protective towards plant habitats. Many Magnolias are threatened by deforestation and habitat degradation, that has been highlighted in ‘The Red List of Magnoliaceae’ (Cicuzza et al. 2007) in which it has been observed that 131 of the 245 members of Magnoliaceae – over half – are facing extinction in the wild.

This beautiful dense tree is not only a chaos of disconnected names but can also be a great understorey selection for a garden as I have already had the pleasure of seeing this year. The tree has stout twigs and branches which have a fuzz, known as tomentum, which can be a white to rusty red color and like in most species of Magnolia, the bark emits a pleasant aromatic odour when crushed. The lovely canopy forms a dome shape with dark green glossy leaves and brown velvety undersides. It is also an economically useful timber tree, not simply a dainty ornamental, in that the wood can actually be used to craft furniture and veneers. The plant even contains phenolic constituents shown to possess significant antimicrobial activity, against Gram-positive bacteria and Fungi.

I was very thrilled to discover this Southern beauty on my walk and here is an earlier post and poem about the Bigleaf Magnolia I encountered on a walk along the Highline in NYC. They say that “no group of exotic trees gives more distinction to a garden than a comprehensive collection of magnolias. There is not one that is not worthy of cultivation.” [3] I am therefore privileged to have seen two species in bloom this year, which I have now come to admire for their hardiness, dignified that they are with the largest leaves of all evergreens and a spectacular size of individual flowers. Magnolia they say, symbolise magnificence, dignity and perseverance and I should think hardiness and resilience too.

Process: I wrote the poem as a tribute to this garden divinity. I learned a lot about the Great Laurel Magnolia this evening so this will be a long poem, a botanical one that has each stanza initiated by a vowel. I also used the concept of a gonadal intersex in it since it would be incorrect to allude to the Magnolia grandiflora as feminine, considering the flowers are perfect and hermaphrodite with both reproductive structures creating a bulbous torus.

An Ode To The Evergreen Magnolia

A timber tree, dignified and espaliered to the light,
dispels any dark sentiment in fragrant blooms, amidst
a leafy dome in the glossy emerald sheen of soft resilience.

Early summer and it's warm, sometimes cold, but never old,
for time runs on evergreen and brown velvety undersides,
unravelling on fuzzy twigs; merely trestles for mammoth blossoms

Intending to sparkle in Eden of thick leafy grandeur.
What pantheon hosts this delightful Dionysus, tepals
around a torus, swathed in stamens and pistils*.

Orange arils** are pendulous drops of blood, revealing
blessed heart of a grand flower, fruiting compassion
in stigmata, in fluid meanings to florid fruit.

Understorey dapples countenance of noble beauty,
so shy under canopies of towering trees,
finally emerging transcendent towards sky.

And if any flagrant wind swaddles in dry demeanour
this acid hardy being that's loathe to argue with
the heated weather, it petulantly wears the loss of vigour.

Exemplary great laurel of life, wandering tomes in taxa,
stringing appellations in a shivaree, for while Systems Men
conjure and constellate, Bull Bay simply trek across the land.

Inciting wonder at their reluctance to seed the loam,
for when science speaks of bio-rhythms, sweet magnolia
wax dormant to the sound of a different drum.

Outstanding garden divinity, created when God planned
His own demise in this beautiful balance of soul
perfection sired by Hermes and Aphrodite.

Underscored by the need to umbellate the landscape,
this southern perennial spread to a whole New World
in diverse avatars of a strange hybrid philosophy.

Notes on the Magnolia grandiflora that may be of interest from a botanical perspective and have aspects featured in the poem:

Picture Credit: Catesby’s Laurel tree of Carolina by G.D. Ehret from Wikipedia

Magnolias are evergreen or deciduous trees or shrubs with alternate, entire, pinninerved leaves. Stipules are present and initially enclose the terminal bud, later falling leaving a scar; they are often called ‘perules’ when covering an overwintering flower bud, and are often attractively hairy. Magnolia flowers are solitary, hermaphrodite or rarely unisexual; they are terminal on long shoots or on short axillary shoots (brachy-blasts). The floral parts are arranged in turn along an elongated receptacle; the perianth is composed of six or more distinct petal-like tepals, and occasionally the outer three tepals may differ from the inner ones; stamens are numerous, spirally arranged and flattened and the anther is poorly differentiated from the filament. The pistillate part of the flower (gynoecium) may be sessile or stipitate (with a stalk). Carpels are numerous (rarely solitary) and spirally arranged; they may be free (apocarpous) or fused (syncarpous). Fruiting carpels (follicles) are usually dehiscent, and each produces one or more large seeds. The carpels may be fleshy, and can fuse together to form a berry-like fruit (the term ‘fruit’ will be used here to refer to the aggregate of follicles, whether fused together or not). After dehiscence, the follicles often become woody and persist on the tree. The seeds each have a red or orange fleshy aril and are often pendulous, hanging out from the carpel on a slender thread (Chen & Nooteboom 1993). (

Picture Credit: Yale Nature Walk [1] The seeds each have a red or orange fleshy aril and are often pendulous, hanging out from the carpel on a slender thread. An aril, also called an arillus, is a specialized outgrowth from a seed that partly or completely covers the seed.

The leaves are alternate, simple and entire, with stipules that are free from the petiole in some species, in other adnate to it. Flowers bisexual, produced singly at the end of a shoot; peduncles with one or more spathe-like bracts. Perianth of six or nine (occasionally more) segments known as ‘tepals’, arranged in whorls. In some species the tepals of the outer whorl are small and sepal-like; in describing these species it is usual to term the outer whorl a calyx and the inner segments petals, but in no species of magnolia is there a complete differentiation of the perianth into calyx and corolla. The stamens are numerous, spirally arranged to the lower part of structure (the torus), the upper part of which bears numerous free carpels, also spirally arranged. In the fruiting stage the torus is much enlarged and the carpels split on their outer side to release one or two red, scarlet, or orange seeds, each of which is attached to the carpel by a silk-like thread. Seeds of magnolias are sometimes very long in germinating. It is interesting that a batch of about two hundred seeds of Magnolia wilsonii, ripened at Kew once, remained dormant after sowing for over two years, then germinated simultaneously with scarcely a failure. (

In Greek mythology, Dionysus is best known as the god of wine, Dionysus was also the god of intersex and transgender people. But it is actually Hermaphroditos, the son of Hermes and Aphrodite, the gods of male and female sexuality, who is the god of hermaphrodites [6] In humans, conditions that involve discrepancies between external genitalia and internal reproductive organs are described by the term intersex and such conditions are extremely rare in humans but in true gonadal intersex (or true hermaphroditism), an individual has both ovarian and testicular tissue [8] I used the gonadal intersex concept in the poem since it would be incorrect to allude to the Magnolia grandiflora as feminine, considering the flowers are perfect and hermaphrodite with both reproductive structures creating a bulbous torus.










*The stamens are numerous, spirally arranged to the lower part of structure (the torus), the upper part of which bears numerous free carpels, also spirally arranged.

**The seeds each have a red or orange fleshy aril and are often pendulous, hanging out from the carpel on a slender thread. An aril, also called an arillus, is a specialized outgrowth from a seed that partly or completely covers the seed.

The Mystique Of Mushrooms

Yesterday was pelted in thunderstorms and drenched in flash floods but we braved the lightening, the evening rush and hauled in a variety of mushrooms from an East Asian Market a long distance away. Supper therefore, was a bit exotic, saucy, even green, all quite literally so. Mushrooms deserve a special place in poetry so I wrote a poem for them. They were all chopped before it occurred to me to take a photo of each individual species, so I borrowed some from Wikipedia instead.

Happy Meal

The king oyster mushrooms turned meaty in the cooking; they were also meant to develop an umami flavour but the soy sauce beat them to it. Pleurotus eryngii is the largest species of oyster mushroom and the specific name is simply because it grows in association with the roots of Eryngium campestre or the Watling Street thistle which feels like the oddest association of organisms; the thistle being a thorny and spiny plant as opposed to this soft, smooth sponginess [1].

King Oyster mushrooms from Wikipedia
Watling Street Thistle from Wikipedia

The delicate Enoki or Flammulina velutipes, grows on the stumps of the Chinese hackberry tree (Celtis sinensis) which is a species of flowering plant in the hemp family, Cannabaceae. A most unique aspect of the cultivated enoki are the long thin stems that arise because of the carbon dioxide rich environment they are cultivated in and the lack of exposure to light which produces their distinctive white colour. Wild mushrooms apparently display a dark brown colour and have short thick stems [2].

Wild Enoki from Wikipedia
Cultivated Enoki from Wikipedia
Chinese Hackberry tree from Wikipedia

The shiitake (Lentinula edodes) is an edible mushroom and its Japanese name shiitake is composed of ‘shii’ (Castanopsis), for it is the tree Castanopsis cuspidata, that provides the dead logs on which it is typically cultivated, and ‘take’ (mushroom). The specific epithet edodes is the Latin word for ‘edible’. The Castanopis cuspidata is an evergreen, that is related to the Beech and the Oak and the dead logs are a great substrate for shiitake [3].

Shiitake from Wikipedia

I have a background in Mycology hence the sweet overwhelm of scientific names, but the emphasis on fungal nomenclature is more to showcase the association of the three types of  mushrooms with varied species of plants.
It’s a privilege to know where food comes from and why it is, the way it is. Supper was a delicious team effort.

We glazed it further with an infusion of sesame oil, ginger – garlic – serrano pepper slivers in half a cup of water and corn flour, oyster sauce, soy sauce, some sugar to taste; it was then sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds. The spices added towards the end heighten the flavour.
The Mystique of Mushrooms in a Stir Fry

There's no wild to picking mushrooms anymore. It's quite safe to troop them off the shelves, along a sedate aisle.

Those days of dead logs, spiny leaves and fissured bark seem like from a Grimms' Fairy Tale, where arose fairy rings, in grey grim woods alongside the thistle.

When the Enoki were sliced to slumber on a bed of green, it struck me as ironic, that they were deathly pale since breathing in what I breathed out. I asked myself, has this mushroom suffered to grow so in darkness?

The Shiitake, we wiped with a kitchen towel, not that they were weeping, but wallowing in tears would have weighted them like a wet sponge of sorrow.

Shii is simply the Castanopis tree in Japanese and they are called other things umami and we like the flavour of sultry summer supper. And so do they, as they spirit out the decay of woody crust in a fungal exorcism where life eats death; where the faded memories of gnarled bark are spent like currency in circular thought.

The king oyster 'shrooms seek thistle companions in a morbid coevolution. They are the most mushroom of them all; thin stipe and large cap, a perfect parasol for a sorceress who believes little in mirrors.

But their sunshades have gills, now stressed for low light and barely breathing*, white as a sheet on meaty stipes, making way to a seasoned wok. The human palate is rarely aware that it finds edible the grotesquely transmogrified.

I set out to write a tribute and ended up with an elegy instead. This one felt more like an autopsy. It’s simply how the words flow and I have attempted another one that is palate worthy, I think. I have added notes below about the saprotrophic nutrition of Shiitake and Enoki mushrooms, both are wood decay saprotrophs. The king oyster mushrooms on the other hand establish a mycorrhizal connection with the Thistle. Mushrooms are fruiting bodies of the fungal mycelium that runs through the substrate.

The Mystique of Mushrooms

Dainty parasols peeped through
the undergrowth, like fairies
preparing for summer rain.

Hands reached forth
to sever stipe from
subterranean soul
for death begets life
in a world like ours.

And those fissures in bark -
a desultory carapace,
for sturdy trunks,
are rife with
fertile imaginings
that will seed
sustenance in a broth
meant for supper.

Spongy sunshades, outpost
the underground meanderings
of mycelial whispers
anchoring forests,
to a filigree of life.

Bounty of soft pickings,
unfurl in awareness
of what lies beneath,
in an undercurrent
of tenderness.

Philosophy lurks
in leafy detritus,
tangled roots,
but meaning emerges
in spongy clusters
that rise
from death**

Notes: ** Shiitake and King Oyster mushrooms are Saprotrophic. Saprotrophs are decomposers that live off decomposing dead organisms. Saprotrophic mushrooms grow on dead and decaying wood. They are able to break down plant matter and convert it into nutrients, and they accelerate the decomposition of their host in doing so. These fungi have a key role in breaking down plant matter, where most of the carbon in terrestrial ecosystems is to be found. The action of the fungi helps return much of this carbon to the atmosphere as CO2. There are two sub-categories of saprotrophic mushrooms: litter decomposers, and wood decay fungi. Litter decomposers break down plant matter and are often found scattered across the ground in the woods. White button mushrooms are an example of the several saprotrophic species which are litter decomposers. As their name implies, wood decay fungi break down the wood on trees. Shiitake mushrooms are an example of wood decay fungi. There are other types of mushrooms that are mycorrhizal, parasitic and endophytic [5]






Cedar of God

They beheld the Cedar mountain, abode of the God,
Throne-seat of Irnini.
From the face of the mountain
The Cedars raise aloft their luxuriance.
Good is their shade,
full of delight.

                                           Epic of Gilgamesh [1]

There is a majestic Cedar of Lebanon in the Van Vleck Gardens at Montclair. This tree that could potentially attain a grand height of 140 feet and a diameter of 8 feet, has a rough scaly bark which is dark grey to blackish brown, marked by deep fissures. [2] The crown of this beauty, conical when young, now sports level branches. There were cones at the ends of the shoots when I saw it yesterday. 

I was quite disheartened to learn that these Cedars, native to Lebanon, barely survive in a vulnerable patch at Bsharri in Lebanon, in a copse a few hundred meters across, which in earlier times stretched hundreds of kilometers, as noted by Paleontologist  Mike Pole in 2016 [3]

Cedrus libani, a true Cedar that belongs to the family Pinaceae, is an evergreen, has medicinal uses and wood prized for its fine grain, attractive yellow colour, fragrance, exceptional durability and immunity to insect ravages [2].

In the Mesopotamian epic of Gilgamesh, both Gilgamesh and Enkidu travel to the Lebanon Mountain to cut these Cedars (which can be traced back to 3 BC). I am not sure how heroic such an act of deforestation was, which included the killing of the radiant guardian of the Cedar forest, the giant demon Humbaba, renowned for his terrifying, supernatural powers, whose severed head was then affixed to a cedar door and sent to the temple of Enlil, king of the gods [4].

Even if there are fewer Cedars of God at Bsharri [5], the tree survives as the national emblem of Lebanon and in the logo of Middle East Airlines, Lebanon’s national carrier. It also graciously lent its support to Lebanon’s ‘Cedar Revolution’ of 2005 [2]

Widely used as an ornamental tree in parks and gardens, I have always admired this magnificent specimen at Montclair and figured it deserved a poem.

Cedar of God

The grand soliloquy of a stately tree
is simply an intifada* of shoots and leaves.

The grenades explode someplace loamy
or sandy clay, as scaly cones germinate

the Earth, in a sparkling resistance against
the vagaries of once divine deforestation.

A Cedar in Lebanon disappears like time,
in a crown lost to Gilgamesh and then to

rainbow revolutions. Needles spiral forth
marking the epoch in severed limbs and souls

knowing nothing is lost to fate except the
omnipotence of man. Simply immortal, is the tree.


Intifada ~ Arabic intifāḍa, literally, the act of shaking off, rebellion, uprising (Merriam-Webster)