Emergence: Poem to a Plant Goddess

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Her name is Datura.

Delicate fluted deep-throated trumpets open to

hungry honey bees and summer rains.

She communicates through scent.

 

In the fall I collect her sharp-needled pods.

They rattle like dry bones.

I chill them.

In the spring I coax seeds to sprout

wrapping each in papery white cloth,

sing love songs – siren calls

to rouse each root from winter’s sleep.

 

I am patient…

a woman in waiting for the heat of the sun

and the mystery of becoming

that is re-acted in spring.

Only seeds know when to swell and burst.

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Wooly hairs branch out from a single root.

Curling themselves into screw like shapes,

They leave it to me to untangle head from foot!

 

I hear the Old Ones call her Sacred

West wind whips red sand into my face,

as I place each sprout in well dampened soil.

 

Within a week green wings unfold

– twin leafed plantlets

lean into the fierce light of a golden eye.

 

Each seedling seeks its own form.

DNA meets the pattern of becoming

held by cosmic forces in a spiral round.

 

I imagine a bush of sensuous pearl white trumpets

– lacy lavender tipped edges unfurling at dusk.

Datura converses with the Hawk moth under a blossoming moon.

 

An ancient plant with unknown origins

Datura bridges continents,

passed on by Indigenous story and feet.

A muse full of secrets

she is known by those

(who have been initiated into her ways)

as “Grandmother,” whose poison is deadly.

She is also a visionary and healer.

 

She comes to some through dreams.

The un- initiated fear her.

 

They call her devil, thorn apple,

witches wildflower, in woeful ignorance

of the breadth of her power.

 

“Dementia!” they sling arrows of ignorance,

accuse her as one who would kill or maim.

 

As well she might.

 

To those who would use her

without respect or care,

she mutters a warning:

Beware.

 

Working Notes:

Datura flowers are startling, huge, trumpet shaped – pearl white and luminous, tinted with pale to deep lavender around the edges – and in northern Mexico, intensely fragrant after rain. Last summer, like the bees that hummed around the flowers from dawn to dusk, I too couldn’t get enough of the sweet scent of literally hundreds of undulating lace edged trumpets that opened each morning or evening after a rain. These wild plants are also known as devil’s trumpet, moonflowers, devil’s weed and thorn apple.

 

Late last fall I collected prickly seed pods and stored them over the winter. This spring I coaxed seeds to sprout, planting them here and there, imagining a summer desert filled with clumps of fragrant blossoms.

 

Datura has the ability to shapeshift – literally. Depending upon growing conditions this plant can develop into a large four or five foot bush, or spread its small umbrella of pointed leaves and flowers over a dry desert wash, barely reaching twelve inches in height. The plant can change its shape as well as the amount of its toxicity which confused botanists for years!

 

In service to Life Datura removes lead from the soil and stores it in her roots and leaves. While the plant provides nectar for bees and other insectivores it forms an intimate partnership (mutualism) with the Hawk moth, an insect almost as large as the human hand. Datura furnishes the moth with nectar and shelters its eggs (newly hatched larvae are served a tasty leafy meal by this mothering plant). But in return pollen is transferred from moth to flower enabling fertilization to take place. With the help of the moth, Datura can then produce fruit and seeds for another year.

 

Datura belongs to the classic “witches weeds” according to Wikipedia, along with deadly nightshade, henbane, mandrake, hemlock and other toxic plants. “It was well known as an essential ingredient of potions and witches brews,” according to this  source.

 

Indigenous peoples across the globe have been using this plant for millennia to seek spirit helpers through visioning. All parts of this plant are lethal and only those that are initiated through the (secret) oral traditions know how to neutralize the poison.

Baba’s Tapestry

 

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Above: Huichol String Painting of the Tree of Life – Thanks to Bruce Nelson for the image

This morning the first email I read was written by a male friend of mine who reminded me that today, International Women’s Day, was “my day.” How delightful to be reminded of this moment by a good man I thought to myself.

An article in Return to MAGO about the biological miracle of female mitochondrial DNA captured my attention immediately afterwards. It had been a while since I had thought about the unbroken line of genes passed down from mother to daughter that allowed geneticists to trace woman’s heritage back to the “first mother.” I reflected for a minute on “her- story” that I share with all women including my own mother and grandmother.

In the same piece of writing (excerpts from Blood and Honey by Danica Anderson) references were made to scholar Marija Gimbutas’s research which highlights the importance of spinning and weaving, and how these two creative acts were carried out by women in sacred temples long ago. In ancient times flint blades were used as scissors by the women who cut the threads and cords – umbilical and otherwise. (Neolithic Europe).

These references swamped me with memories driving me to write, today, before I lost the precious threads.

First, I thought of my grandmother who I named “Baba” because she sang a song to me about three lost sheep that cried bah, bah, bah. The word “Baba,” I later learned, was a name used to denote grandmother.

My maternal grandmother took care of me as a child. She let me bake cookies and help her put up food that she had grown in her vegetable garden. She taught me how to grow flowers, and together we watched birds for hours. She cooked special foods for me when I was sick and washed my face with warm water every single night. She awakened me so that we could watch the deer grazing in a circle around the golden apple tree under a blossoming white moon. But what I remember best is sitting with her as she sewed…

My grandmother was a professional seamstress who crafted all my grandfather’s suits, shirts, ties, and silk handkerchiefs from bolts of cloth that she chose with great care. I also have many poignant memories of her sitting at the sewing machine stitching together dresses, shorts, shirts, for her only granddaughter who she loved fiercely. She taught me to sew delicate little stitches, and I have a clear memory of her working on a huge tapestry of the Tree of Life that was filled with colorful birds that I loved. That she never finished this particular piece of embroidery always upset me whenever I thought about it. At the time of her death my grandmother had embroidered so many pillow shams, and wall hangings that were so exquisitely executed that I was left to wonder about the significance behind the fact that she abandoned my favorite tapestry of all. I still have the silver heron scissors that she used to cut the threads while working on that piece of embroidery …

Today of all days seems like an appropriate time to honor my very creative and loving grandmother who nurtured me as a child, adolescent, and young woman. When I lost her not long after my brother’s death I lost the only adult I had ever come near to trusting…

According to Andersom, women’s aprons had pockets that often held precious family heirlooms like rings and necklaces, as well as scissors that were passed down from mother to daughter (or as in my case from grandmother to granddaughter).

(I stopped writing at this point to get a cup of coffee and to water my plants. I was stunned to discover a small pair of (child’s) scissors in the center of one of my passionflower pots that had been hidden there for months. Sometimes synchronistic experiences like this reinforce the powers of interconnection like nothing else can)

My grandmother also wore aprons that always had pockets in them.

My mother was an artist that worked in a number of mediums. At one point she was silk screening pictures that my brother and I had drawn onto linen napkins. My brother drew a bird’s nest with three eggs in it. The picture that my mother selected for me was a self-portrait of a small child who wore an apron with a single pocket in the left hand side. I was also wearing one of my grandfather’s berets. Oddly I had drawn myself with only one arm. As an adult, I wondered about why my mother had chosen this particular picture for her napkins because it seemed to indicate that her daughter saw herself in a distorted way.

The embroidered Tree of Life tapestry that my grandmother never finished and the picture of myself with one arm leads me to believe that something was broken in my grandmother and in me on an archetypal level (tree of life) and the personal (a child with one arm). But I think that the intergenerational woman thread endured and eventually triumphed, because the child had a pocket and inside that pocket was a woman who developed into a creative writer, one who continues today to re-weave the threads of her broken woman line.