Katha Pollitt's "Lunaria"

Lunaria


Now that I am
all done with spring
rampant in purple
and ragged leaves

and summer too
its great green moons
rising through
the breathless air
 pale dusted like
the Luna's wings
I'd like to meet
October's chill

like the silver moonplant
Honesty
that bears toward winter
its dark seeds

a paper lantern
lit within
and shining in
the fallen leaves.
 

About the Poem

I wrote "Lunaria" almost by accident, while working on another poem, which was about Judas and was not going well.  In my poem, Judas  was an ordinary man. Everyone knew Jesus had to die, including Jesus himself. Somebody had to make it happen, though, so that the story could unfold, and in that arbitrary  way He has, God had chosen him.  My Judas was like a character in a novel, who appears to be free, although in reality the writer controls him completely, only the Judas of my poem had the consciousness of a real person, and was completely bewildered to find himself standing on the street with that bag of money in his hand.  It was as if Anna Karenina suddenly found herself  on that train platform and thought, What am I doing here? Actually, I have alternatives!

I was sitting at the computer late one night, trying to flog my poor confused overcomplicated poem through yet another draft, while simultaneously   woolgathering on the internet  under the guise of "research": iconography of the Last Supper, where in many paintings of that tableful of Jews only Judas is given "Jewish" features,  which led me to  anti-Semitism generally, and is the yellow star connected to the yellow robes Judas is often portrayed wearing? Ancient money --was 30 pieces of silver a lot or a little?  And  flowering Judas, what was that, anyway?  Pictures of this  lovely  tree, from which legend has it Judas hanged himself, led me to pictures of  lunaria, which in Denmark and Holland is called coins of Judas, but  we call honesty, money plant or silver dollar plant.

Lunaria was much more exciting than Judas and his metaphysical quandaries. It is a plant I love dearly--I have a lot of it naturalized in my garden -- and the most interesting thing about it is not its Danish-Dutch connection with Judas, but that it has three distinct phases, each beautiful. In the spring, it has a tall stem of purple flowers, in the summer it has flat round green seed pods, and in the fall  the skin of the seed pod dries up and falls away and reveals the inner translucent lining; you can see the seeds inside. That last  phase is the one that gives it all those names referring to moons and coins and truthfulness.

I liked the idea of  Lunaria moving through its stages of life until  the last one, which is also the most striking and unusual. That aging was not only loss but a stripping away of inessentials. That there could be a transfiguration.  "Lunaria" came very quickly,  and although one friend found it rather mysterious – it helps to know it's about a plant , not a planet or a goddess– I think it's pretty clear. Maybe too clear.

The poem about Judas remains unfinished.

 

BIO

 
Katha Pollitt's most recent books are The Mind-body Problem, a collection of poems, and Learning to Drive, a collection of personal essays. She has won many prizes and awards for her work, including the National Book Critics Circle award in poetry for her first collection, Antarctic Traveller,fellowships from the Guggenheim and Whiting foundations, and two National Magazine Awards. She writes the Subject to Debate column in The Nation. This year, she is living in Berlin.

 

 

 
 

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