The Poetry of
Jack Scott


Mushroom menagerie,
peaceable kingdom of
the toxic and the tasty,
and all that lies between:
a danger to the dilettante.

I didn’t spot them
from the logging road
because they were too large
for casual credibility,
but when I stopped my car
to rest it from its uphill labors
through revirginated undergrowth
I looked and saw and was afraid
with experienced recognition
of the giant deadlies:
the yellow Death Cap,
Amanita phalloides,
seven inches broad,
Amanita virosa,
Destroying Angel ,
red with white pimples,
six inches wide,
the white Fly Agaric ,
Amanita muscaria,
nine inches across,
toadstools almost large enough to sit on
and more,
a humongous hall of fame,
deceptive among many
that were not only palatable,
but very good to eat.

Here be monsters!!!
This world was out of scale,
or I was Gulliver,
irreconcilable, but real.
This grove of fantasy
rose cathedrally in domed columns
as far as eye could see
into an endless forest
that seemed to have no other side.

Like mesmerism inviting
at the edge of cliff or roof,
beguiling, tantalizing
like a house of gingerbread.
No danger signs, none needed,
you feel it in your bones,
your tingling blood,
but your awe is stronger magnet
than your auguring alarms.

I cannot help myself
I make the leap,
and plunge
selecting, picking among
prehistoric mushroomry,
(where are the dinosaurs?)
that I see on right and left
greedily with both hands,
and fading memory of a car,
a road, a long one home
from here almost a thousand miles
and on this blackboard
I’m erasing what I came here to forget.

I half realize the danger:
this is like petting snakes,
but these don’t cringe
when barely touched
or bite immediately.
I touch them
because they’re there and you are not.
You have grown abstract, are dimming,
these bewitching things are real
Shall I pick equivalence
to a hundred pounds of you?

River runs its course,
can’t be contained if blocked
or surging in a flood.
Like fever in the blood
it can’t get lost;
its path is always sure
because it wends its way,
a juggernaut, inexorable.
Yes, that’s love
or something like it,
obsessive passion,
spell-bound compulsion
mental illness-
all the same with different names
and attitudes.
Look at what’s not love,
the negative space around
where you think it should be
and you’ll see many shapes;
one of them is mushroom;
another one is you.

Why not just look at them,
leave them as they be?
They do not stampede like buffalo
or flee in flight like endless pigeons.
These do not need escape;
ubiquitous, they are everywhere at once,
more numerous than pickers,
they have or need no fear.
The pressure of such passive awe
is not pure gluttony,
for who would dare to taste or eat
so many of so many kinds.
The silence of the mushrooms deafens
warnings of restraint.
People pick, that’s why . . .

This crop cannot be over harvested
fertile, fecund mushrooms feed on death,
slower than the death we know
they are placentas, afterdeaths
benign non-predators hosted
unresisting by the dead.
There is no end of death.

I need bags, not laundry,
pockets are inadequate,
so shirts and pants will have to do
if I want to take my treasure with me
(but why? but where?)
I tie the legs and sleeves with twine
and follow where my greed leads me.

Deeper into Northern jungle
a horizontal kind of quicksand.
Lost in these dimensions
all directions are the same
like falling after leaping
without gravity.
Blinded by intensity
I’m at risk of being
seduced into getting lost.

All this space enclosed,
a claustrophobia,
menagerie of botany:
above, trees knit a seamless roof of solitude
around, they wear a veil of vines,
green carpet moss
wall to wall upon the forest floor,
mushrooms everywhere upon it.

I cannot stop plundering,
but I leave a trail,
scuffings in the moss,
good thing
the way back out
tends to close upon itself.

I fear,
there is such fear,
beneath this frenzied passion,
that there is no one else on earth with me
in this place this day.
Me, mushrooms and magic:
compulsive mycology, a passion
standing in for unrequited love.

All the bags are full
yet I cannot stop picking deeper, deeper
into this endless fairy forest,
this woods that has no other side
as if it were a Venus Flytrap
and I, a hapless fly.
I shed my shirt and pack it like a sack.
In the northern chill I’m sweating.

The car, where is the car
the road’s too far away to see
I pride myself on vision,
the vision that I had,
but bag to bag I follow,
landmarks for the long way out.

The trunk is full,
all its nooks and crannies
the back seat is full
I have more bags
than room for them.

However hungrily I collected,
hungry, I won’t eat;
I do not trust my memory
and fear hallucination,
death by imagination,
or worse.
I should have paid attention
in aisle M
of reference library.

So much for what I didn’t do,
here’s what it seems I did.
Did I brush my hands on lips
or rub my eye?
My vision has begun to melt,
but there’s nothing in my eyes.
One now waters and it stings
stares back red in the mirror.
The daylight fades; I know
I’d better swiftly harvest
what is left of it.

How foolish I have been, how callow
to have run the risk of sightlessness
in my blind ricochet from loveliness.
The thing that matters most to me:
do I face eclipse ahead, or blindness?
This gritty darkness running in one eye
feels like night is coming on,
the right the worst,
and twilight in the other.
There is slight ease in sunglasses;
it helps to loosely wad a handkerchief
beneath the right lens
creating claustrophobia.
I fear blindness
as the sighted must
the path to sight again
requires blind faith
in more than medicine,
not at hand,
and luck..

What and where am I,
what is this errand?
This is and is not you.
It is me,
it is the road,
the mushrooms,
this sudden sickness,
and the one behind it.
It is this thinning sky,
the coast behind me
twilit and cold.
It is the space,
the spaces:
where you are now,
where you will be,
and mine,
far North of all I know.

Behind the wheel again
I feel so far from anything.
This road behind is long,
ahead is even longer.
The journey to the center of this day
was longest;
unmeasured is the night ahead.

If I took you with me
into those mushroom woods
I’ve left you there, I hope,
along with my forsaken spoils
shaken from my toxic wardrobe.
Back on the highway alive
I consult my inner compass.
Do I turn right toward hopefulness,
or left toward resolution,
assuming medical attention
either way ahead.
Left toward deeper wilderness
I seek counsel with the universe
wanting an exchange,
the brokering of a bargain:
please heal my eye, I beg,
and I’ll subdue my penis.

Maine seems long ago,
in all ways far.
Death is in that distance
of what had been before.
You are not alive
in that corrosive panorama,
a relic of it more
an act of mental taxidermy.
My eye has healed
although there’s more to that
farther in a further story.

Were we two trains
passing in the night
in opposite directions,
or were we traveling
at two speeds
briefly side by side
on separate tracks?

I did not know
how many years had made me so
to draw around me
like a blanket in the cold
here and there a woman
appearing to be warm,
to live with me within this space
pretending it to be our family home.
Although for awhile
we shared the space
and the warmth felt real
pretense was mine
and its attendant blindness.
What can I give of me
that has not been already taken?

L21 ®Copyright 1973 Jack Scott. All rights reserved.