Ladyslipper, Red Eft

By Adrie Kusserow

As a child I awoke
to the furiousness of bees.

All morning my mother and I combed the woods
for red efts, trout lily, trillium.

I learned young
the smell of God and soil.

The first time I saw a ladyslipper
I felt embarrassed, the pink-veined pouches,

simultaneously ephemeral and genital,
floating toad-balloons,

half scrotum, half fairy,
half birth, half death.

Without the formalities of church and school
lust and spirit first came to me

as one—
through the potent hips of spring.

But flowers, like fear, once inside me
never lay still—

amid my restless
stalking of the woods,

I wanted something bulky to thank,
to name, to explain all the impossible grace.

So I dragged my thirsty body
over the hills, into the trees.

I let the plump red efts, orange fingers tiny as rain,
crawl across my neck, onto my cheek,

half reptile, half elf,
half earth, half magic.

Years passed,
spring after spring cycled through me,

again and again I arrived in heaven
through touch,

lust, even, for the wrinkled pouches of ladyslipper,
the soft lemon-bellied efts

that waddled pigeon-toed across my palm.
Now I walk my daughter through April’s black mud.

It’s been a long winter,
she hasn’t quite unfurled.

Still, she sticks her ear into the cacophony of crows
above us, the way a dog sniffs

at a tight current of scent.
Across the meadow the peepers

gossip in their giant cities,
salamanders toddle

over the black soil,
back into the cold ponds they think of as mother.

awake, awake

what if, what if

What if God is walking through us,
picking seasons, histories, humans off himself

like milkweed from a sweater,
wading through us,

a slow giant through warm ponds,
feeling the odd tickle of religions

like tangled weeds at his feet.
I watch Ana now in full bloom,

despite the rain, running outside barefoot,
setting up dolls’ nests in the fields,

collecting moles, covering them in leaves,
naming them even though they’re dead.

She skitters across the garden, singing,
she too is learning young

the restlessness of rapture,
the way beauty is hard to sit with,
the way it bends the body into prayer,
the way ripeness must be touched.

Soft black earth of the garden,
she and her brother all fists and toes.

I watch her digging into heaven—
soil, toads, bulbs, buds,

the craning neck of spring—
and all summer

the sweet long green meadows.

Adrie Kusserow received an MTS degree  from HDS in 1990 and a PhD from Harvard  in social anthropology in 1996. She is associate professor of cultural anthropology at St. Michael’s College in Vermont, and author of American Individualisms as well as a book of poems, Hunting Down the Monk (Boa).

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