Within the permanent stink of creosote,
Next to conversation about engines,
Beside crates of Coca-cola and rotting timber
The lady of the house grows ferns –
In her backyard, in saucepans, in glass jars
Which she stores upon the shelf above my head.
Sunshine through them makes a green batik
On the counterpane as I examine
A wrestle of stems in water
And touch rows of spores like microdots,
A secret message of propagation.
Yesterday we clambered a volcano’s slope
Collecting ferns. We left the trees and grass
To find ourselves among smooth, green columns,
A Roman city now vegetable
Where tarantula and scorpion crouch.
We left our samples at the crater’s edge
Before we scrambled down, hand over hand,
Through roots and slime to the sulphur springs.
Only one kind of fern could grow
Near that bubbling earth; something like an ear
On a single stalk, attuned perhaps
To the volcano’s last gasp of origin
Or else the first hiss of an end to come.