Pokeweed and Purslane

by Tim Gilmore, 6/16/2023

Florida challenges you to love it. It poisons and boils and stings and dehydrates you and bites you in half. Even up here where Florida is really Georgia, Giant Hogweed will burn you and scar you permanently, but a century ago, my father’s family boiled and ate the young shoots, and when 10 foot tall pokeweed ripens its stems and berries from green to wine red to dark bruise, they’ll kill you and your dog but the cardinals and crows, woodpeckers and mockingbirds and bluebirds all eat them ravenously and with rapture.

The old woman meant to speak to us about wild porcelain, as she calls it, and she’s right. We exit the ticks and snakes of pinewoods and wander the sunburntalive fields daily raindrenched to spot the smallest gorgeous flowers we can see.

I see the yellow blooms, even, though the rain fell all night and the earth is still wet, from several paces distant. They’re not the ones, though they do remind me.

When my daughters and I gazed at the Hope Diamond, we surprised ourselves at being nonplused. The most famous diamond in the world, 45.52 carats, looked pretty enough, but was too big to look like that much diamond at all and could almost have been glass.

Years later we wandered across Stockholm in the wintry spring to find Järnpojke, or Iron Boy, a 1954 sculpture by Liss Eriksson, permanently placed in Gamla Stan, Old Town, in 1967, and only 5.9 inches tall. I loved Järnpojke so much more than all the colonial war giants on pedestals spread like cancer over London.

Then early this morning, when the brutal sun first bombed the night fog, I saw the tiny gorgeous flowers, lush deep hot dark velvet distilled bloody unspeakable fuchsia magenta. It’s the distillation that matters most. Rarest hues of wild purslane. Old French for porcelain. Tiniest gorgeous bloom, it lasts less than a day. Children stomp it, never seeing it. Dogs urinate on it. I step around it, bend down to, get down on my hands and knees, beg of it that I might one day match its artistic brilliance.