Ars BotanicaKatharyn M. Browne
German herbal healers believe
that some plants have mimetic powers—
that ivy’s invasion of redwoods
and deciduous trees echoes
and thereby is proof
of its innate capacity to clear the lungs.
Humans frequently asphyxiate things
while clearing the way for breath.
Our orderly reproduction through
technological means—in Petri dishes,
through online dating services, and with
the aid of cryogenic samples—extends
human reach beyond its means.
The ivy plant invades and takes over
structures to the point of tearing down.
One plant can compromise
an entire forest,
or gradually raze
a forgotten barn. Once it takes
hold, ivy has the potential to ruin
everything that it touches.
I like to touch things. To leave my
fingerprints on parking meters and
display signs at IKEA. The smooth
of metal against my fingers and the
arch of a bright-red R in the words
‘rattan’ or ‘raku’ invite synesthetic
reactions: hearing the cry of steel,
tasting the flavor of R—its earthiness
on the tongue.
We should wonder if ivy tastes
its victims: Have botanists considered
what it would mean if photosynthesis
is not the real reason ivy spreads?
Sometimes human proliferation
is purely accidental: a broken condom,
drunk dialing, uninvited sexual encounters.
The only way to rid your garden of ivy
is to eliminate the mother root. Tools
must be properly coded so that they
don’t get lost in the process.
You may need the following:
loppers, pruning shears,
a saw, a shovel, trowels.
I once touched a Chagall
at a museum.
Nobody was looking.
And it wasn’t his greatest work.
My fingerprint remains at the bottom
corner—just next to
a blue horse.
Many naturalists hate ivy.
It plagues indigenous flora
and sucks life from endangered trees.
Though it shelters many
animal species, it compromises
the homes of others like
the endangered elderberry beetle.
They will chop it, lop it, dig it up, shred it,
and even set fire to it. Still
it returns after each rainy season
to tether and leech stands
of cottonwoods and madrones.
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