Barbara Kingsolver, former biologist and author of numerous bestselling novels including The Poisonwood Bible, Animal Dreams, and Prodigal Summer, has recently published a new book of poetry titled, How to Fly (In Ten Thousand Easy Lessons), where her command of the language and talent for storytelling shines through. There are several gems in the collection including today’s poem, “Ghost Pipes,” where Kingsolver shares why she so admires this unusual flower.
Not Fungi. Ethereal flowers, the slim stem piping
up through scale of leaf, the downturned bell,
all perfectly white. Not cream or pearl. Translucent
jewel of ice gleaming from the toes of a forest.
Once this plant was ordinary heath. Then came
the day it renounced the safety of photosynthesis.
Turned away from the sun’s daily bread for a riskier
life, tapping deep strata to drink from tree roots,
pulling their blessed sugars straight from darkness.
Disparage the scroungers all you please. This flower
is my darling. Imagine, forsaking chlorophyll.
In my own time I have walked clean away
from numbing shelter, marriage, the steady paycheck,
taking my own wild chance on the freelance life.
And when I walk among ghost pipes, their little
spectral music in the dark wood quickens my heart:
song of a moment, the risky road yes taken
to desire, escape. The day that changed everything.
You can listen to Kingsolver read several poems from How to Fly (In Ten Thousand Easy Lessons) in this video. “Ghost Pipes” is 15 minutes in.
Some questions for reflection:
Ghost pipes are Kingsolver’s “darling” and a metaphor for her life. Is there a flower or plant that reflects your life story?
Kingsolver’s ghost pipes, with a nod to Robert Frost, took the “risky road” that changed everything. When has choosing the road “less traveled by” worked for you?
“Ghost Pipes” by Barbara Kingsolver from How to Fly (In Ten Thousand Easy Lessons), 2020. Copyrighted material used for educational or therapeutic purposes.
Photo: Ghost pipe, amc-nh.org