Work in Progress: Verbesina Occidentalis

I’m working on a wonderful project sponsored in part by the Professional Art Quilter’s Alliance – South called “Narrative Threads.” The exhibit will open later this spring at the Page-Walker Arts and History Center in Cary, North Carolina.

Verbisina Occidentalis by Lyric Kinard
Each artist in the group has been paired with a writer and set free to work on a collaborative work. The lovely and talented poet, Maura High, is my partner and I couldn’t have asked for a better person to work with. We’ve connected well and are working on a sort of “call and response” series. I respond to her poem with art – she responds to that work with another poem – and so on.

Verbisina Occidentalis by Lyric Kinard
I chose a poem of hers that seemed to grab me on a visceral level – and that brought such immediate visuals to my mind that I couldn’t shake it. I didn’t intend to be so literal with the piece but, well, there you go. Hmmm. It’s rather odd – but in looking at all the pictures I like this one best. A simple sketch with needle and thread.

Verbisina Occidentalis by Lyric Kinard

Verbisina Occidentalis by Lyric Kinard

Verbisina Occidentalis by Lyric Kinard

Verbisina Occidentalis by Lyric Kinard

VERBESINA OCCIDENTALIS
Dark does not fall: it rises from the soil, 
seeping along the flattened grass 
of the dim path and flowing 
up trees already black, 
night’s conduits, forked
darkening against the retreating light,
while below them in the field the crownbeard 
on its winged stem makes a last effort, 
waggling its two or three 
yellow rays, lifting 
its small cluster of disc petals
in imitation of the sun—though
its leaves have gone quiet already, 
and the pollinators sleep their insect sleep.
*
Sleep is just a way to talk about what happens 
in the dark, what the cells do, what 
color green is, when no light shines on it.
The crownbeard holds still now, nothing moves
under the streetlights in the ramifying subdivisions.
Wings close, and petals. Eyes 
see nothing that is not inward and radical. 
There are boundaries, such as where stem
becomes root, and where the taproot probes 
among stones, and we may travel them, 
through capillaries and waterways and geographies 
of decomposition. Underground is like aboveground
inverted, a reflection of sorts, uncertain
and hopeful as seedheads at seedtime.
*
Seedtime is the wind, and seeds 
quiver in their bracts, as brittle 
as moths are, and as dry, as poised, 
as these winged stems, which still lean 
to the light. One good shake 
and they scatter down the grasses 
and lodge: while the rains come, and long hours 
of dark and cold, while they parse 
moonlight and sunlight, and know already 
that the root comes first and follows water
down the kingdoms of soil, then a tendril 
and the precursors of leaves, leaf, branch and crown.
I hold some in my palm: each husk ribbed and shaped
like a vase, like the word promise in their language.
*
In their language, grow is a conversation among cells,
why, thank you, here’s the sun! you go first, 
yes, you, I this way and in this green vein
upward, and here’s sap, sweet and mineral . . .
Like banners held to our view
by attending angels, their pronouncements
unfurl and flutter through the daylight, 
and all night they hum. The point being seed
and more seed, up there where their lures dangle;
a few long, bright yellow petals, no need 
for more when bees enough roam the flowerets,
when even one person has leaned closer, as if to listen
and instead been sounded, like a drum
struck and reverberating through the field and further.
*
And further afield, along trails 
mapping the wood, waysides, and how many lives
did I pass through and never know its name? 
By hearsay and looking, in a book, I found 
a paradise of leaves, opposite and ovate,
that curious “tissue decurrent on the stem,”
the loose corymbs, taxonomies of desire 
in a right name, a promise 
of knowledge and belonging, as in “my flower,” 
“my field,” and so on, until “our flower,”
our dominion. That much was in my gift—a sprig, 
it’s true. While the flowers, which know all about 
belonging, heeded the imperatives of light and wind, 
water calling to them: Verbesina, little word.  
*
Word, made dicotyledon and vascular, 
one-stemmed perennial aster, of the family 
Asteraceae: not so much star as a constellation
of particulars, a coming-together that was years
in the making. I saw crownbeard growing, 
yellow crownbeard, Southern crownbeard, 
here, in an old field reverting to wood.
Birds fidgeted in the stands. Deer 
crashed through the stiff, ribbed stems 
and left them bruised and flattened. People
and their dogs passed through, Linnaeus 
and his descendants were among the familiars.
We left traces in the air, on the grass
and track, a faint phosphorescence in the dark.
© Maura High
Nov 2011–Jan 2012
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Comments

  1. Cheryl Goyer says:

    I met one of the poets for the Narrative Threads project at Yarn Tree Studio in Raleigh this last Sunday. She was knitting a piece to be included in the quilt of her collaborator who doesn't knit. I can't wait to see the show.

  2. Jane LaFazio says:

    love!! I love what you've done Lyric, it so speaks to me too. and what a wonderful project! I adore the idea of being paired with a writer.

  3. I agree with Sandy! Wow to them both!

  4. oh wow to both of them. I can see why you could respond to the poem. and I love the work.
    Sandy in the UK

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