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/

Continental Drift, Destination Vows

As events played out recently, I had the sweet fortune of being the celebrant for a very private exchange of marriage vows (yes, y’all read that right ! 🙂) It was for a lovely couple, very good friends we’ve known for many years. I also had the privilege of solemnising a unity candle ceremony, as well as being a witness later in the presence of an officiant, authorised to lawfully seal the union. It has been a most wonderful experience, in these grey and hazy times.

Later, I wrote a poem to mark the occasion, a tribute to their nomadic lives as they work for the betterment of children’s lives the word over. I tried to capture what it means to be a couple, while being part of the United Nations, separated often by geography and time, which will resonate with those that are involved in long distance relationships. It is a poem on how love sustains across borders, time zones, long separations, days, months, years… a few aspects of the story are deeply personal to our friends, the rest being poetic license. I’ve tried to add a touch of their organic world and weave in some of the countries they have lived in … I have experimented with the first person narrative style which in this poem, stands for either of the couple speaking to the other.

The theme song of this intimate ceremony was an enchanting instrumental based on Verve’s classic bitter sweet symphony. I have italicized what I borrowed from the song. There’s also a bit of Bizet’s Carmen at the end, which too has special significance.

The last month has been a whirlwind of sorts and when beautiful things happen around you seamlessly, like a river flow or you yield to the river perhaps, then surely, life is blessed.

The poem has been arranged to appear like a wave (best viewed on a large screen or tablet), given that a precious friendship was seeded in the aftermath of a Tsunami.

All photographs used with permission
        
        Cause it's a bittersweet symphony, that's life..
     
      bloat of whale song, birdsong, petulant -

    the rattle of tanks and thunder,

   giant waves cascading cymbals on shores

  for heartbeats lost

   in native lands.

    I'll take you down the only road

     I've ever been down.

      You know the one

       that takes you to the places

          where all the veins meet ..

                  those hopeful rivers

                       merging sinuous sentiment

                  into the shapelessness of ocean

             s   p   a   c   e    beneath the breast,

      a vast rhythmic rise

in tidal moons,  waves licking shores

  now awash in stories loosely anchored

    to transient shoals,

          then exasperated,

              sedimenting the ocean floor

                 in breezy metaphors of flying fish,

               fish like mammals breathing our air ......

             The reef edge was always steeply laced

           in a filigree of the statuesque -

       Coral corralling within aragonite bridal veil,

 feelings in free d

                             i

                              v

                                e

Rewind to retrospect:

     Small Giant Clams

         netted and harboured secrets

           to the future we never dreamed of

              except in stories that read as life itself,

               long after the deed is done.

             Washed ashore briefly on coral sands,

         we were a tsunami of affections

   seeking anchorage to archipelagic sentiment,

creating little islands of purpose,

islands of recreation,

 sand banks of spirituality, floating islands,

   floating plankton, floating algae, swimming

     in the shallows like the time

       I almost drowned     

         in fever

           and pulled you to seaweed depths

             but you came up gasping for air,

               to a soul clarity,                               

                  we both did ..

                  Time flew, like I flew, like a raven

             off the ark, to the ruins

        of an ancient fairy tale,

    where salt water couldn't drown

a covenant struck in a yielding heart,

the only living thing which I thought existed

    in the semi arid of those lifeless blunders

         that overstay their welcome on the dunes.

             The stars of the desert as brilliantly

                  luminous as our eyes, blinking binaries

                      when I looked for you in asterisms and you

                         looked to me

                                                and we

                               found ourselves                       

                                     under a red blanket.

                                          You came with a sprig in your beak

                                                to drier sands,
                        
                                                    where we etched

                                                        the holy books of faith

                                                           to our own religion

                                                              under a blanketing sentiment ..

                                                            feelings relocated, landlocked,

                                                        then clarified in three layers of lake

                                                  amid a thousand cichlid kisses

                                        darting under a blazing fire.

                               Those sun burnished hearts

                   south of the equator strangely rhyme

        the same, while venous blood flow upwards,

  downwards and across

that expansive meter

    of grassland, where we fostered

        the lives of children like it were

           a spiritual mandate.

               Those leached affections pooled

                    into a reservoir of love, a lake

                         that turned clear as crystal    

                              in that turbid genesis ..

                                  the celestial was most surreal          

                                      when I woke one day to the milky way

                                          obscured by the million lights

                                             along a river,

                                         dazzling a grid of avenues and streets

                               and I know that to this layered night

                 was hitched the hem of your sunrise

       and your cape of night stars

the one that would course through time

   to find me with stories

     etched in constellations,

         of warlords and poppy fields

            where the only rebel was the heart

                for it floundered on land carpeted

                    in the brightest, sometimes the whitest

                        snow, ravaged by battle tanks, redeemed

                             by roses along savage roads

                                 and land as soft as noni

                              and my heart yearned

                    under the same sky,            

              yours and mine,

      separated simply

by the geography of employment.

   It takes a while to find one's feet

         in the clayey soil of mangroves

             skirting the bay where tigers

                 tread to glide and humans barely stand,

                       for the passage of time

                             has been cobbled in death

                                  trod by the advancing cavalry of years

                            of those we knew who never grew any younger

                        and now, will never grow older,

               but we had each other,

       our days vivisected

 to a standard operating procedure,   

so we thought, zooming through

  the virtual multiverse        

     which sagely conspired to confine

       breath to national pleura ..

          deaf to the ventilating heart,

              blind to the diminishing 'soul'?

          Are human lives as poetic as mangroves -

      inhaling through aerial roots ?

  Or a stone cold reclining Buddha -

  His holy feet rubbed in gold leaf

     having little use for a Midas touch?

        Illusions of habitat, these ..

           Reality is solely etched in our partings,

              our separations, our prolonged confinements.

                Our measured lives

                    reluctantly succumbed

                        to the everyplace invisible

                           punctuating our complacency,

                              like a sardonic smile

                                  lurking without a body,

                                      seeking host.

                                        The world at its loudest SOS

                                     made every moment a past tense,

                              as crepuscular as terse beliefs

                      situating ambition in twilight, that future we all desire

               but never really have.  So we

    defied time,  shredded tense

   planned a grand escape, to elope

      with the moment itself.

         They told us that

               love ..     is a bohemian child and

                   he never, never knew a law,

                      but strangely, love's law

                         kindled this union as certain as a flame       

                     lights another and coruscates the void.

       That's,  the only road we know,    

the tangible of bright, the space w i t h i n,

   limitless as the horizon on a globe

       I'll take you down

          the only road I've ever been down.

              You know the one that takes you

                  to the places

                        where all the veins meet ..

Reincarnation

Babaganoush ~ We are blessed to have friends that cook and those that cook at our place 🙂
The ocean makes me
want to imagine
reincarnation.
My thoughts
a shoal of -

How does one know
what fish to be ?
The bigger picture
as far as the eye
can see
or as deep,
is a drop of water
under a coverslip ..

When I deliberate
transcendence;
it's simply a measure
of distance - this escape
to the stars

Transformation
has always been
the stuff of atoms
and here I am,
in a world of
limitless
reconfigurations ..
An interesting story from ‘Jerusalem : Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’

Preconfigured deities

I arranged this poem as a series of linked morae of seventeen syllables of the haiku/senryu 5/7/5 pattern.

In a world of the brilliant spark of life, the desire to survive, rival species, judgment and chaos, I took inspiration from periodical cicadas.

They are quite an interesting bug of the order Hemiptera, genus Magicicada and comprise seven of the approx. 3,000 species of cicadas which only occur in the eastern United States. Unlike most cicadas, periodical cicadas lay eggs that hatch and then their nymphs burrow underground for either 13 or 17 years, depending on the species, while subsisting on xylem fluids of rootlets. Brood X of 2021 (roman numeral – ten) was one of the largest groups. Cicadas emerge when ground temperatures reach 64 degrees Fahrenheit. This year it was in May. Males of the periodical cicadas sing using special organs called tymbals which are membranes that vibrate very quickly when pulled by tiny muscles and this vibration creates the cicada’s song.

Cicadas protest
the harsh light.       A horary
ear splitting drumroll
            of sunday sermons -

simply pungent polemic
   crowding around in
a bowl of       sticky
      gruel      ad infinitum

   Stars made no promise
to enflame the sky,
poet! Yet,    how we believe ..
      unctuous metaphor,

sparking delusions,
   imagery       combust .. piss ..
on the bathroom floor.
The Stoic's ablaze. We 

rise to bright, indifferent
self immolation.
Stars fade, cool, splutter
supernovas. The light's not
         always about us.

We are,
             because of ...

For those interested, there is the cicadasafariapp available online, that maps annual cicada emergence and helps share and identify species.

Some references:
https://source.wustl.edu/2021/05/brood-x-cicadas-emerge-in-a-rapidly-changing-world/

https://www.google.com/amp/s/martinsvillebulletin.com/news/local/the-secret-underground-life-of-cicadas/article_1c6ac5a5-a40d-5c38-a5a9-622a9150dbce.amp.html

https://www.nps.gov/articles/000/cicadas-brood-x.htm

Wetland Haiku

Here are some Haiku I posted at my Instagram handle. I photographed the plants while on a walk in a marshland.

Dark, red rum cherries 
of summer, drip bittersweet.
The heart remembers.
Rose-mallow unfurls.
Lady leaves her parasol
in Eden's bower.
Thick rain lashed burdock.
The sun will hurl a rainbow
at senescent sky.
Long myths of pokeweed.
Healing colours of marshes,
are poison berries.

Polk Salad / Poke Sallet to the Haiku of Richard Wright ~ an exploration

Poisons come in all manner or form and the ones found in the plant body of Pokeweed are potently toxic. Fatal in large amounts, in smaller doses though, they are sufficient enough to make one seriously ill. The ingestion of any part of the plant might result in symptoms of vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions, and rapid heartbeat. As someone noted of poke-sallet or Phytolacca: “It will clean you out from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet.” [1] The dish Polk Salad (made from its young leaves) itself is a form of survival cooking, a necessary thrice boiling out of toxins, like the purging of demons. Now what does Pokeweed have to do with Haiku one might ask …

As part of the Sealey Challenge [2], I took up the only poetry book written by artist Richard Nathaniel Wright, well known American author of Native Son and Black Boy, [3] who began writing Haiku towards the end of his life, thousands of them during his grueling battle with Amoebic dysentery and it quite melded with the Pokeweed I chanced upon during a marshland walk recently.

Phytolacca occupies that twilight zone between being totem and mascot of  poke-sallet themed festivals in Kentucky to noxious weed turned rare famine food. As a vermifuge (anthelmintic – medicines used against worms) it has had its use at a time when people were constantly plagued by gastrointestinal parasites, but today, it occupies disturbed land and is actually great food for songbirds. Native to eastern North America and the South, it is used as an ornamental in horticulture and is of some utility in biomedical research although for most part it is considered a pest or weed as it is poisonous to wild animals and livestock.

Phytolacca americana, also known as American pokeweed, pokeweed, poke sallet, dragonberries is a poisonous, herbaceous perennial plant in the pokeweed family Phytolaccaceae [4].

The berries develop from flowers that arise on elongated inflorescences called racemes; beautiful, symmetrical, predictable patterns like Haiku emerge, engorged on metaphor it would appear, they ripen to a debilitating crimson philosophy. Thus, they are quite unlike a traditional Haiku in construction, but if the flowering of Pokeweed is used as an analogy to  poetic process, it develops more like a trenchant Senryu.

In the helpful afterword by Hakutani and Tener, the editors of Richard Wright’s ‘Haiku, This other world’, the authors maintain that  Wright’s work was more Senryu than Haiku because he struggled to develop austerity in them i.e. the absence of philosophical or metaphysical comment, the absence of intellectualisation or imposition of an excessive rationality [5] Haiku essentially stresses non-intellectuality, a Zen kind of humour, lightness, a lack of sentimentality, profusion of joy and a deep connection with Nature. 

I understand Haiku to be more of a practice in the ‘where, what and when’ rather than the ‘how and why’, while Senryu is more of a mock Haiku despite the similarity in 5/7/5 syllabic arrangement, they are more logical and less intuitive. Hakutani and Tener suggest that the major themes in Wright’s haiku reveal his desire to create another world in which his black and white focus would be part of his feeling for nature, that he writes more often about death and the setting sun, about the moon and loneliness, about scarecrows, the rain, about farms and farm animals, about birds and insects, and about spring, the season of blossoms and blooming magnolias.

Traditional classical haiku thrives on the connection between man and nature, and has as its central focus, nature centred feelings of unity and harmony similar to Zen philosophy, which also stresses the experience of the present moment in life or in nature. Within the seventeen syllablic construction itself, two entirely different experiences may be joined in sameness: spirit and matter, present and future, doer and deed, word and thing, meaning and sensation (Hakutani and Tener). Haiku embodies Yugen. Wabi and Sabi. Yugen is a delicate principle of philosophy in Zen Metaphysics, applied to art to denote the mysterious, underlying the surface. Sabi is related to loneliness, a quiet graceful beauty, and Wabi to the uniquely human perception of beauty stemmed from poverty. Japan’s greatest Haiku poet, Matsuo Basho [6] is known to have used the aesthetics of Yugen, Wabi and Sabi. His poetry majorly illustrates that if a poet’s feelings were conveyed in haiku, then those must have been aroused by nature, the four seasons, flowers and even the moon.

Yet, the poems of Richard Wright, some of which read as Senryu if viewed under a classical lens, feel like an amalgam of the antithetical, of subtle beauty with a strong flavour, like Pokeweed. Then again, isn’t intrinsic harmony of being, simply a matter of perception? Aren’t our words merely an inadequate contrivance for harmonising that which we are unable to reconcile, given inherited ideas of beauty and perfection? A plant like Phytolacca, viewed from the principle of Yugen, is perfection in symmetry yet a potent poison. What poetic form could deny the clear beauty of a dangerous inflorescence, its inherent toxicity that would arouse  the emotion of fear or an action to self preservation, a serious aftertaste of misgivings. Even devoid of metaphor, Pokeweed is nature at its finest, benign in form but threatening a perilous interaction. Whether it be Senryu or Haiku, words do little justice to the thoughtlessness recommended in classical Haiku, no matter the strict adherence to form and yet words are all we have.

I have selected some of Wright’s Haiku to share, which I hope are not of disservice to what the author accomplished, given his own understanding and exploration of the form. Reading Wright’s process and the illuminating afterword provided by Hakutani and Tener has been useful in my own education on succinct verse.

Long myths of pokeweed.
Healing colours of marshes
are poison berries.

~ davina

References:

[1]~https://www.saveur.com/poke-sallet/

[2]~https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Wright_(author)

[3]~https://lithub.com/the-sealey-challenge-an-expansive-way-of-reading-poetry/

[4]~https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phytolacca_americana

[5]~Richard Wright, Haiku – this other world, pages 255, 279, 282

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