the collector

by Samara Scheckler

From the tropical reaches of the globe come FedEx boxes
filled with shredded paper and plant pieces. They sit
for days, quarantined on the kitchen counter
as you dig through stores of cork and tree fern, piles
of crepe myrtle and cedar, in search of the perfect crook
on which to bind with sphagnum and fishing line.
Then the neat packet is affixed with a hook and dangled
from a hanger intended for someone’s necktie collection.

You develop your ecosystems in our south-facing window.
Wood trimmed from neighbors’ yards, mosses missing from the feet
of North Carolina Poplar and Oak,
bulbs gathered from windy Brazilian rock faces,
clusters of root produced on misty mountain slopes,
leathery leaves unwound from twining Thai tree trunks.
You tend your brood with concentration, carrying
chaotic cascades from window to sink and I think
of the red knotted ropes of hair that you cultivated in college,
streaming down your back. The display: a lifetime
of memory, only the choicest specimen collected.

Suspended out of context, marooned without pollinator
or kin, orchids share only the window they’re in and yet
with proper care, at least once a year, most burst
into exotic, fragrant blossom.
Pinks flutter, yellows scream and scalding oranges waft
night smells of raspberry or honey with an occasional
burnt hair or elephant dung delicately hung on the porch in its season.
We layer our collections thickly,
gathering weight and density until the day they
obscure the light, the view and each other.

Samara Scheckler writes from her home in Asheville where she lives with her husband and young son. The recipient of the 2002 Betty Place Prize in Poetry, she is a social worker and Masters student in gerontology and public administration at Western Carolina University.

About the collector–This poem arose from weeks of examination of ancient Chinese poetry and modern Appalachian poets. Eventually, the embedded natural imagery rose to the level of metaphor, even for the most complex and personal of topics.