Hunting Skunk Cabbage
we need patience and boots
glazed with saddle soap. The ground
is always wet. Patches of ice don't help
as we wander during the flash of a thaw,
find old cattails, deer pellets,
cans and papers snared in thorns,
if we're lucky one prickled starfish
of mullein. But no skunk cabbage.
So, we return, say, in late March,
because they can't hide forever.
We walk. Blackbirds tick.
Clouds tattooed with geese
try to distract our vision
which we've got to keep forward
and down. There. In a muddied swale,
through a clump of moss, the mottled bronze
shoves. This one is a scout with a spathe and bracts,
fancy terms for botanists, for us
it means spring. The throat, slender as a swan's
could break: So my wife pets it gently,
says the texture is sponge, no, more like rubber.
I watch her run a finger up the tip -
and my word - the plant squeaks.
That's what we hear. Not the wind
or the moan of trampled leaves,
but the squeaking herds of cabbage
twisting from puddles and melt,
stretching their throats in the crisp air,
parading the round, green flowers,
knobbed like grenades, that she absolutely
refuses to touch. When crushed,
it's the foulest of odors. I take her hand,
and we wait another minute as the mud
works our boots and purple horns
bump the earth. Skunk cabbage,
Symplocarpus foetidus, arriving to remind us
it doesn't matter what is buried
compared to what is pushing through.