Jason Duncan, “Ars Botanica”

There is a word beloved by botanists, cotyledon, the tender lobes of a seed which become its first leaves. They love this word because it is an odd sound that means initial germination, a rising of stem from soil. I love this word because it gives name to unrequested birth, an embryo unlacing its shell in the dark. A seedling parting earth rises like the first will to speech, inspiration, thought from breath, because breath is demanded of the living, and I, unconsulted, am among the living. And so must speak.

             fragile form clings to lines
like leaves etched in silver rime

There was a winter storm when I was a boy. Days of rain suddenly froze overnight on the branches of the city’s trees. Pines swayed with the weight of their new glass skin, ice magnifying the needles’ hue, the bark’s brittle geometry. My brother and I spent the daylight hours shattering weather-stiff St. Augustine, spellbound with wasps fused by cold to lampposts. At night, huddled beneath blankets— mother, brother, and I— we listened sleepless to the shining wood twist, snap, and plummet to earth, fearing that a limb would spear us, and knowing that’s not what we feared.

             a closing couplet, once it’s read
is a garden, locked and dead

There was a wild blackberry vine woven through the back fence of my mother’s garden. After that storm of ice and the years of storms that fill the summers of home, she died and left the snapdragons, myrtles, and marigolds without mother. But even now, in dreams, I see those unkempt vines sprawling and heavy with fruit, thorns and black jewels of jam far outstretching the iron loops that bound them when the world was real and able to be touched. Each night I chase away the Jays that come to pluck the overflowing harvest. Each morning I pray that they’ll return.




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