Karen Greenbaum-Maya

Cattail Fever

Root-bound pot of cattails packed vegetal solid,
black pot cracked, stretched into white plastic
the roots a dense mat, truly hair-vegetable,
Mandarin pun on ‘long life’: ‘can never die’.
           Roots tough as wire slice your bare fingers.
Crack open the pot to release
not roots but shoots prowling around slow inside the pot
           circling, hell-bent on digging in
then rising up, zombies called from their graves,
hunting fresh food, driven to take hold.
           At the edge shoots escape, hang over the side
like cold fingers, rusty ivory, cracked,
weathered like zombie fingers.
You must chop them off.
The host will not stop, will not die.

Once the pot gives way, cattail spears
will invade the entire water garden.
Zombies hanging over the side,
they’re thumping solid against the pot,
no need to rush when pressure is all.

Crouch low in the ditch among cattails.
           They crowd the banks
in ditch water clear like you’ve never seen it.
Snow melt numbs your feet,
your hands are become strangers.
           Cattails are Wal-Mart in a ditch,
strange flour, sweet syrup, Cossack asparagus.
           Over-ripe, even green, boil them and eat up.
Iris rhizomes, those will kill you.

You will die in this green-gold place under the trees
where the light is filtered as through water
so cold you forget how to swim.

Cattails, the Wal-Mart of rushes,
           zombies in a ditch
spreading by pollen slough, by cold white spears.
           To destroy them
cut off the fingers, below the water-line

drown the new sprouts do not let them breathe


Karen Greenbaum-Maya is a retired clinical psychologist in California. For five years, she reviewed restaurants for the Claremont Courier, variously in heroic couplets, anapest, and imitating Hemingway. In an earlier life, she was a German Lit major and read poetry for credit, earning her B.A. from Reed College. She started writing when she was nine. Since 2007, more than 70 poems have appeared in many publications, most recently The Centrifugal Eye, Word Gumbo, Convergence, and dotdotdash. Her first chapbook, Eggs Satori, was a finalist of note in Pudding House Publications’ 2010 chapbook competition. She keeps water gardens.