Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith

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Poem: "The Trembling Giant"

This poem came out of the August 2, 2016 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] corvi. It also fills the "4F Response" square in my 8-1-16 card for the Survival Bingo fest. It has been sponsored by [personal profile] janetmiles.

Warning: This poem contains some intense topics. Highlight to read the details, some of which are spoilers. It's about a giant grove of quaking aspen, which scientists believe to be in distress. Since Pando is somewhere between tens of thousands and a million years old (!) it has necessarily survived a great many challenges, so we may surmise it has defenses we probably have not seen yet. I extrapolated from the chemical prowess of the plant kingdom to suggest one possible way plants might deal with herbivores they can't flee from is to kill them -- perhaps by direct poison, but also sometimes by assisting a common pathogen into a more deadly effect. Warning for threatened treelife and mass animal death. If these are sensitive subjects for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.


"The Trembling Giant"


Scientists come to study
the aspen grove called Pando,
one of the largest living organisms
on the planet Earth.

They weigh and measure
and frown in concern, for
the trembling giant is
not doing very well.

Old trunks die off, but
few new ones replace them,
shoots nibbled away by herbivores.

What the humans do not realize
is that Pando is a scientist too.

Their small quick minds cannot
comprehend the scent-discussion
amongst the grove, cannot hear
the forest for the trees.

With the patience of a million years
surviving everything the environment
can throw at it, Pando twiddles and tweaks

until suddenly the elk and the deer drop dead.

Whole herds lie in pullulating heaps,
food for the flies and the worms
and the roots of the trees.

The humans clutch their hair
and moan over the decimation,
never noticing they are witnesses
to a most successful experiment.

The giant trembles, but is not afraid.

* * *

Notes:

Pando is a famous grove of quaking aspen, not a forest made of many separate trees, but a mountain-sized lifeform sending up individual stems from a common rootmass.

Tree communication is one of the more amazing things that plants can do. Trees can use chemistry to send messages to each other, summon animal assistance, and fight pests.

(These links are gross.)
I got the idea for the dying herbivores from a disturbingly real incident that wiped out a great many endangered saiga antelope. Scientists eventually identified the probable bacterial cause(s) but since the germs are common and nowhere near this virulent normally, there remains a great deal of debate why whole herds suddenly dropped dead.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fishbowl, nature, poem, poetry, reading, science, weblit, wildlife, writing
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