Claviceps purpurea /Pascopyrum smithii 1

And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God…And the building of the wall of it was of jasper: and the city was of pure gold, like unto clear glass…and there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth…
— Revelation 21:10, 18, 27 (KJV)


A sewer’s spuming out of Paradise,

all spit, slippage: lo, what Gold Cloacum

in the empyrean, squinting starlit,

pinched up in a height of black-belying

blue, hawks this jet of municipal filth?

Steppegrass founders in it,

bluestem bunching

Andropogon gerardi

   at the split-rail, dead rain perpetual

   down corrugated tin, and, drought-be-damned,

   the far field, too—mud puckering for thirst,

   April spurting eerie with thistlefires.

Cirsium spp.

   The prairie leeches up a color cribbed

   of fallen things.

For Jerusalem, raised

other than a spirework, living topaz

hewn by knack of the angelic gemsmith,

should fail with Earth-perpetuating yuck

to flood the wilderness. Beneath,

June sky

   ferries the spirit in an endless hour

   of tourmaline. Bloodrot ripens, kerneled

   on the glume. How like idols in a drop

   of dusklight tinseling their golden backs,

   the cattle browse and lumber softly through,

Bos taurus

   clipping at clover and toadflax.

Dalea purpurea,


  Linaria vulgaris

a deep dendritic circuit’s fizzling out.

Starry-sensed, its choir of needles, keening,

by rounds make maladornment of the dress—

   this flesh she’s bred by, into, poor heifer,


   who bloats and drops, blight-buckled, to a stone

   sleep the vultures reckoned days since.

Cathartes aura



on a torchlit street, St. Anthony’s shade

discomfits the gangrenous man, who’s slumped

at a redbrick parish wall, beckoning

the priest to consider his hand, what’s left.

And look, Father takes it tenderly up,

turns it—this sinner’s wage paid out, no doubt,

in blood; how they smolder, heaven-haunted,

the fingers, like scraps of tinder withered

with flame.

The city’s lantern-lattice spits

its shadows, hatching down the byways, out.

Father starts.

With charcoal sheen, the index

splits, suddenly, unseated at its knuckle—

O how utterly bloodless as it cracks

and flakes to settle like a paper ship,

sluggish on the streetside gutter, listing,


   and glides: destined past the village bulwark,

   even to those barley-stippled hills, where

Hordeum vulgare

   tillers, hunched, mounting the star-hounded dawn,

   plod ruthlessly, glazed in auriferous light.


[1] Ergot, a genus of quasi-parasitic fungus, colonizes a variety of grass species, including pascopyrum smithii—at last congealing into roughly grain-shaped sclerotia, a kind of mycelial nodule, on the spikelets (i.e., flowering heads) of its host. Once established, the fungus cultivates a dubiously mutualistic relationship with affected grasses: deterring consumption by herbivores via production of highly toxic and, in some cases, psychotropic alkaloids, while simultaneously coopting the host plant’s nutrient resources. The prevalence of ergot tends to surge in grassland habitats after seasons of high rainfall.

During the Middle Ages, ergotized rye and barley were often unwittingly ground into flour for bread, producing epidemic outbreaks of gangrenous ergotism in which many of those afflicted lost extremities to ischaemic necrosis—a result of vasoconstrictive compounds loosed from the ergot incorporated in their diets. Now largely a concern for livestock, ergotism plagued human populations even into the twentieth century. Symptoms begin with a tingling and then burning in the limbs, followed by an extinction of sensation and a blackening of the flesh. The Hospital Brothers of St. Anthony, whose namesake is thought to have perished miserably of gangrenous ergotism sometime in the 13th century, became renowned for treating the disease to occasional, ostensibly miraculous success. Before the advent of modern mycology, ergotism was known in Europe as the ignis sacer or St. Anthony’s fire.