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.

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