Armchair Forager: Flora Americana

September 7, 2012

A new poem from our Armchair Forager, Debora Greger, inspired by Eat the Invaders. Greger’s latest book, By Herself, will be published this fall.

Flora Americana

I. Natives

They rolled up his lawn, just a sad shag rug.
With mattock and machete, with Spanish
when those failed, a man attacked the hedge.
Before the neighbor’s azaleas could bloom
into ballgowns or bishops’ robes––before
I could say sunset hung on a bush to dry––

men gouged them out. In the bare dirt,
seeds long dormant staked their claim
to all a weed demands: a scabby patch
of ground that someone left “disturbed.”
And the earth brought forth vegetation,
plants yielding seed according to their own kinds.

And there was evening and there was morning,
a third day.
And a fourth. And the landscaper?
No matter. From each unwanted seed,
a rude reminder of America’s lost Eden.
Rewilders, who holds claim to this earth?
Am I not animal enough?

Beggar’s-tick, youpencil-mark my clothes
with seeds whenever I approach, ready
to yank you up by the root––but next door
you host a butterfly. Tell me,
were those the underwing eyespots
of an American painted lady I just saw?

Weed, may I call you wildflower?

II. Invaders

Dandelion, I beg your pardon.
You were here first. No?
You’re an immigrant like the rest of us?
You’ve made yourself at home, root sent so deep,
you never meet a gardener who digs up enough
to halt your spread. What palace grounds
of the Old World did you not invade?

Only in the court of the wind do you bow,
its the one empire vaster than yours.
Next to you, Pissabed, the sun grows dull.
Devil’s Milk Pail, Lion Tooth, shake
your clock awake. Shake it to death.
Seed-cloud a Pilgrim pressed in a copy,
well-thumbed, of Gerard’s Herball,

your down crossed the Atlantic
in the foolhardy trunk of a Pilgrim––
my husband’s ancestor, perhaps.
The Lincolnshire clay on his boots
would have smuggled more. Tell me,
commoner, how you stowed away
in livestock fodder, on ballast cobble.

III. A Recipe

Off with their heads! How much per flower
did Mother pay us to pick the yard clean?
At the playground, we plucked more,
then counted our wealth in nickels.
She sweetened, soured, steeped and strained.
In a dark corner of the laundry room,
a crock huddled under a cloth. Life stank of death.
Water turned to wine––or at least to beer.

For, if the recipe came from Grandmother––
as my sister claims––who passed it down to her?
Who left the Old Country with the scraps
they owned of the nineteenth century?
For, to perfect a “dandelion wine,”
the English would lay it down for half a year.
But the Irish wait six months for a drink?
They drained their “dandelion beer”

after a week––just as the recipe
from Grandma Brennan said: just long enough
for water to turn to alcohol.
In Mother’s scuffed recipe box,
an heirloom hid from a family with so few.
Left: a quilt pieced from slivers of neckties,
nothing too narrow to be reused,
the silk in shatters. A plump Victorian Bible,

the page crowded with births and deaths
fading to make room for more.
The black shoe-buttons of Grandpa’s rosary,
crucifix thumbed until God became twig.
Grandma’s treadle sewing machine––
how many times cross-country had it sewn?
And a scatter of sovereigns, compounding daily:

Dandelion, we inherited you.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Elizabeth Brennan Haun’s Dandelion Wine

1 full qt. dandelion blooms
1 gallon water
1 lemon sliced (unpeeled)
2 1/2 lbs. sugar
2 tablespoons yeast

Put in an enamel kettle (NOT aluminum) and boil 5 minutes, then pour into a crock.
When cold, add 2 tablespoons of good yeast.
Keep in warm place 3 days until it ferments, then strain and bottle.
Cork tightly.

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