Joyce HaydenFall Birches (watercolor)

Where the birch tree weeps, Chaga spreads
its bandage of stunning mycology, a cancer created
to fight a cancer, the fungus a blooming charcoal
tumor, center like cork, shot with cream-colored veins.

The mushroom also serves as tinder, holds a spark
without a match. The thing that looks charred
providing the burning. The thing that is deformed
providing a healing. Champions of primitive skills

love the way it leads them back through the torchlit
hallways of time, to flint, to self-sufficiency,
to the wild. In Siberia, they call it “Gift from God.”
The Russians have long known how it fights

for regularity in cells, injecting betulinic acid to halt
the improper unwinding of DNA. Or maybe they didn’t
know of the unraveling, but they had faith in the old
ways, rewarded in the villagers who never got sick

after drinking mushroom tea. Like vaccination,
a portion of poison fortifies against disease. So, too,
we spar some evenings, letting in discord just enough
that when we return from our daily brinks, we are

stronger than before, immune to the deeper divides.
Then there’s Chicory, blue wildflower used for healing,
the mythic key to opening locked doors. We pass it
winking on the path to the beach, where the wrack line

is strewn with what the sea refused to keep.
The ocean knows what it is to sputter and choke;
its soothing saline pools around our bitten shins.
There is no miracle, or all is miracle. How we touch

again in the dark, after invoking the word divorce,
imagining us torn from each other and made separate.
What will it take to heal? What black and gnarled
thing can grow here, sealing our salvation?


Rebecca Hart Olander