Thursday, August 09, 2007



High summer is here and the warm
Annual grasses spider across the earth.
Sedums in the garden wilt.
You have to be a master gardener here
My neighbor said today at market.
We talked of worms
Wrapping her red bud in brown webs
Just a week after spraying.
The eggs were there I said
Or laid just after the chemical
Had broken down.
Kansas webworms waving
Under their palace of threads.

I pull the annual grasses from my beds
But save the Datura which wander
From year to year.
These are my plants, leaves blue
In the thick stemmed August days.
The flowers are white dresses
Worn freely in the night,
Only a surprise flash of cotton
In the rising sun.
But more buds swell greedily
Await their turns to be worn
In the August night,
More buds swollen in the invisible hand
Of persistence.

Commentary. This is the third poem that I have written over my life a poet about Datura. I am not sure why the fascination with this plant. I guess because it is so surprising. Seeing the plant in the day, flowers shriveled one might not guess just how wonderful its night blooming flowers are. I still remember the first time I saw this plant in New Mexico. We had been traveling a poorly marked dirt road and ended up winding down a steep canyon. As I came around a bend in the shadows there was this plant full of these wonderful pure white flowers. I guessed Datura, and realized that we had been driving by lots of these plants. Only the flowers were shriveled in the sun.

Sometimes we make a big deal of persistence. It is one of those American half truths. If you are persistent you can do anything or realize your dreams. Well the truth is many times you can't. That doesn't mean you shouldn't be persistent. I am not a fatalist after all. Instead the point of the poem in part is that persistence really is no big deal-it is part of our Darwinian legacy. After all, do you have any genes that were contributed by organisms who were not your direct ancestors? Granted, new forms of genes and new genes arise like buds and are passed on if persistent enough in a metaphorical sense. But these arise from mutations in genetic material passed from generation to generation. There are even so called immortal genes involved in critical biological processes which are basically unchanged, persisting today in all organisms from deep sea vent Archea, to starfish, Datura and humans. Persistence then is not always heroic, but happens quietly at a very basic level.

Indeed DNA as noted by Brenda Maddox in her biography of Rosalind Franklin "reverses the tendency of matter to become disordered and allows new molecules to be the same as the old." True, this is the persistence from which all other forms of persistence are derived from. And yet note, just as the Datura opportunistically self sow (wander from year to year), the persistence embodied in the fidelity of the DNA copying process also makes possible the natural selection of mutations best suited for particular environments. So persistence and change, opportunism if you will, are each required for the other to happen.
Post a Comment