Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsFall 2019  Vol. 18 No. 2
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Your daughters, perhaps, have been seized with the prevailing “Pteridomania,”
and are collecting and buying ferns . . . and wrangling over unpronounceable
names of species (which seem to be different in each new Fern-book that they
buy), till the Pteridomania seems to you somewhat of a bore: and yet you
cannot deny that they find an enjoyment in it, and are more active, more
cheerful, more self-forgetful over it, than they would have been over novels
and gossip, crochet and Berlin-wool.
—by Charles Kingsley, Glaucus, 1855

How I grub in the damp woods.
Trowel in one hand—

in the other, pocketbook of fronds.

Moonwort, bracken, broad buckler,

little adder’s-tongue.

I tramp across meadow and hill and glen,

fingers combing gully and hedge bank.

Though I take only sparingly,
my cord’s ready for bundling.

My satchel’s lined with moss.

Brittle bladder fern, forked spleenwort.

How I bend for
rust-colored scales,
for the lemon scent of a native species.

How I crawl.

I reach into the crevice’s black heart
to finger a stalk.

Hard fern,
filmy fern,
lady fern.

Why shouldn’t my shoes be ooze-caked,
earth smeared on my cheeks?

I’ve slipped down muddy banks
and sidestepped along waterfalls,
my bonnet lost

chasing a ravine’s glint of evergreen.

Rue-leaved spleenwort,

Magnifying glass clasped to my eye, I read cruciate forms,
tasseled tips, bipinnate leaves.

I classify—
serrated edges pressed to my tongue.

Bristle fern, holly fern, true maidenhair,

How I multiply,

blowing clusters
of cinnamon spores

from the fronds’ undersides.

(Far better use of a specimen than pressing it in a tight
little book and calling it mine.)

Royal fern,

soft prickly shield.

How I shiver in this wet dress,
the air sharp
with rain worms
and rotting stumps.

Yes, how I shine.  

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