Academic journal article The Midwest Quarterly

Woolly Mullein

Academic journal article The Midwest Quarterly

Woolly Mullein

Article excerpt

Verbascum thapsus (candlewick, flannelleaf, velvet plant)

   This common plant rises
   in rosettes of furred oval leaves
   I stroke (grandmother's stroke).

   It bursts green by the path again and again,
   the older leaves beneath this year's, darker, and lower still,
   a swirled mat of brown.

   It echoes the broad lilt of my life
   tilting open and down, the turned-over leaves
   a watershed of veins

   and my daughters, alert green verticals, lifting
   from my (once) palisade
   below me my mother's brittleness

   and my grandmother's soft and local dust.
   In the center is the heart (mother's heart failed)
   of light green leaves, and the budding yellow stalk of the
   future.

   Lore says you can make lotion
   from the leaves, but here we are
   already, salved

   hand in hand in
     your her all
      take my (they took my)
                             hands.

In my writing I want to be engaged in the ongoing surprise of the relationship between experience and words. The land--in my case plains that sweep up into the ridge of the Rocky Mountains--is an essential part of that relationship, though the degree to which it is evident varies. In "Advice to a Prophet," Richard Wilbur explores the ways in which nature is the root and blossom of our language and our best selves. How the land and its plants and animals fare is how we too fare. He asks how we "shall call / Our natures forth when that live tongue is all / Dispelled." Our dry plains and massive rock structures and the high snows that are next year's water comprise that "live tongue. …

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