Friday Prompt: Plant Life

Tree buds in KY
Spring buds on a tree in Kentucky (though not the same tree that is outside my office window).

There’s a large tree right outside the window of the office where I now work.  For the past three months, I’ve been settling into a new job, in a new town, in a new part of the country, experiencing new patterns of weather and rhythms of life for the first time, and in a way, the tree’s seasonal development seems to have kept pace with my own process of putting down new roots. Since January, I’ve watched the tree outside my office window turn from bare and covered with snow, to studded with red-tipped buds, to dripping with cascades of papery, yellow-brown flowers (which are no doubt a contributor to my allergy suffering, but are pretty nonetheless).  Watching its seasonal transformations, the former would-be-biology-major in me can’t help but think of botany: the March rains that washed the inhibiting hormones from the tree’s growth tissues to signal that it was time for the eruption of flower buds, the pale, embryonic leaf shoots that now lie furled deep inside their own buds as they wait for their turn to emerge.

Spring, and thoughts like these, always remind me of one of my favorite poetry books of all time, Louise Glück’s The Wild Iris. The arc of The Wild Iris follows a garden and its grieving gardener through the cycle of the seasons, and I find its persona poems in the voices of various plants to be especially haunting.  Take, for example, this excerpt from the titular poem, which opens the book:

At the end of my suffering
there was a door.

Hear me out: that which you call death
I remember.

Overhead, noises, branches of the pine shifting.
Then nothing. The weak sun
flickered over the dry surface.

Glück’s choices in crafting a voice for her iris seem to have been heavily informed by her knowledge of the plant’s seasonal life cycle: as perennials, irises die back at the end of each season and sprout again in the spring.  Death and resurrection, again and again. Like an aging Persephone, Glück’s iris speaks with the shadow of the underworld fixed upon its lips.  Its voice is dark and brittle, weary with the knowledge of its experience: for it, the earth is not a womb, but a grave; to break out is not a frantic exercise in escape, but rather, to pass temporarily from one world to the other, in the knowledge that at the end of its time of ecstatic flowering, it must return again to the darkness of the winter ground.

While today’s prompt doesn’t necessarily ask you to write in the voice of a plant as Glück does,  I hope it will challenge you to consider the ways in which the processes of growth we can observe in things around us (like plants) can serve as markers of seasonal rhythms in our own lives.

Prompt: Write a poem that documents the growth cycle of some form of vegetation (like a plant, a lichen, a mushroom) as a way to record, reflect upon, problematize, or otherwise engage with a seasonal change or development in the speaker’s life.

Weekly Prompt: Winter Weather

Sun rising over snow in New Jersey

The deep of winter can be a particularly difficult time, especially for those who (like me) are affected by short, dark days and perpetual gray skies.  El Nino has wrought some particularly freakish incidences of heavy snow this year on the East Coast and some has dumped some uncharacteristically heavy bouts of rain on parts of the West Coast, but even here in the Midwest, where the storms have been much milder than usual (last year at this point, we were in the middle of a deep freeze in which the moisture in my nostrils would turn to ice each time I stepped outside), the weather’s inability to make up its mind in favor of clear skies has made my artificial sunlamp my new best friend.

Winter weather (and in particular, the alien quality of harsh winter storms) has always been a popular subject of poetry, it seems.  Robert Frost fixed winter in the national imagination forever with his “Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening.”  William Carlos Williams captured the human viciousness we often project onto driving snow and ice in his poem “Blizzard.”  And Cathy Song’s “Leaving” deftly embodies the feeling of being under siege that can result when one is housebound by winter rainstorms:

The mildew grew in rings
around the sink
where centipedes came
swimming up the pipes
on multiple feet
and the mold grew
around our small fingers
making everything slippery
to touch.
We were squeamish and pale.

This week’s exercise asks you to follow in this tradition of writing the winter blues.

Prompt: Write about an experience of extreme winter weather.

Here’s an excerpt from my own attempt:

February Brown

The ground liver-spotted
with half-receded ice scales
takes up fresh powder

with swift muddy gulps.  Snow
is what the weathermen
back home are calling it,

and yet here, we are stuck
between ice storm and thaw.
Let there be less of this

frozen monochrome, more
of the acid sun slanting off

the glazed drifts . . .

As usual, we’d be thrilled if you shared a portion of your own attempt with us in the comments below.  Happy writing — and for those of you who are snow or rain bound, hang in there!  May spring come very, very soon.