Introduction to Mycology
Shiitake, velvet foot, hen of the woods, wood ear, cloud ear, slippery jack, brown wreaths of Polish borowik dried and hanging in the stalls of a Krakow market—all these were years away from the room where I lay once, studying the contours of your sex as if it were some subterranean species I’d never encounter again. Because I hadn’t yet tasted oyster—not even portobello— when I thought mushroom, I meant the common white or button, the ones my mother bought for salads or served in butter beside my father’s steak. First taste of love, or toxic look-alike, there was your stalk and cap, the earth and dark, our hunger, wonder, and need. Even now, I can’t identify exactly what we were, or why, some twenty years later, learning you lay dying—were in fact already dead, suspended by machines if not belief—I thought first of your living flesh, the size and shape of you. My amanita phalloides, that room was to exist forever, as a field guide or mossy path, even if as we foraged, we did not once look back.
Copyright © 2018 by Chelsea Rathburn. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 27, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.