Lichen is an unnatural union between a captive algal damsel
and a tyrant fungal master – Rev. JAMES CROSBIE 1831-1906
Suppose a fox is sly, an owl
wise and a storm malevolent.
Then suppose lichen is a sensational
relationship between an algal
damsel and a tyrant fungal master.
Precisely how lichen is formed
is a mystery but suppose
the fungus lured the algae to him
brimful of promise for a life
of bountiful moisture (the fungus
equivalent of rich, handsome
and a little bit audacious).
Suppose he is holding her
captive somehow, exploiting her
vulnerability so he can use her
unique tools for photosynthesis.
Suppose he made her read
all three volumes of Fifty Shades
of Grey in a weekend
and she liked it, in spite of herself.
And suppose she watches other
algal damsels going to work
on the bus or the train in Dublin,
London, New York or Paris
and asks what it is they are
reading behind the winter issue
of Poetry Review or The Wall Street
Journal, biting their lips
and insisting that the prose
is atrocious and there’s nothing
in their lives that is missing.
Or suppose their symbiosis
is something other than conflict.
They seem at ease with each other.
Suppose they’re onto something.
Suppose he didn’t enslave her
and make her take his name,
that she cooperates willingly.
Suppose theirs is a clever survival
strategy, a equally beneficial
partnership with clearly defined roles.
Suppose she likes that he is bigger
physically so she can feel safe
in his embrace, the way he weaves
his filaments tightly about her
and sees to it that she gets the right
amount of light and water.
Suppose she goes about the making
of food gladly because when she’s wet
she’s turned on and it’s then
they glow and grow as one.
Suppose lichen is happy.
Suppose happiness is a flourish of paris-
pistachio- and jungle-green
on the low branches of a willow
by the river after rain
the way there is nothing
more melancholy than bubble-gum
and hot-magenta cherry blossoms
on an April wind.