Robbi Nester – Wildflower Abecedarian

Robbi Nester LEP&W Sept-Oct V1 2022

Download PDF Here Live Encounters Poetry & Writing Volume One Sept-October 2022. 

Wildflower Abecedarian, poems by Robbi Nester.

Wildflower Abecedarian

A rose is just a rose, or so I’ve
been told. Still I want to know—
could there be a name for these
deep-throated blooms, in red and yellow,
eggplant hues, just waiting
for the entrance of an acolyte with wings,
gowned in golden pollen? Or these pale blue stars
hidden behind a rock, the smallest asterisks
in a gilded field of mustard weed?
Just as I’m ready to snap them with the camera phone
kept in the pocket of my jeans, I realize I’ve
left it home, so I’ll probably never get
my wish, will never know what others dubbed them—
names after all no better than the ones I might give to
other beauties on the trail or by the road, like these
pouched white clusters on a waving stalk,
queenly on their lofty thrones. If I had a garden, I’d choose over
red tulips and hibiscus, sticky snobs crinkled as crepe paper,
some of these and these, whatever they are. So don’t
tell me what they’re called. I’d rather not know–
unless we make a game of naming and unnaming them,
violet stalks closely covered in tiny curls of petals,
white blossoms, pinked at the edges, with a golden eye.
Xerophytes, suited to this arid land–
you know, tough and hardy, as I never was,
zinnias are nice, but they can’t beat the brash
and rude panache of purple-spotted orchids
boldly fashioned in the form of a nude man.

Living Rocks

The lithops are blooming again. All year, I hardly
notice them, grey as the gravel they are buried in.
But when the rains come, they take it in, swelling
fat as hammered thumbs, and soon, buds emerge
in the crack between the twin lobes of the surface,
topped with translucent screens where the light
comes in. From this groove, the flower grows,
its pink or white or yellow petals erupting like
an asterisk, obscuring the tiny body of the plant,
low to the ground. In its native Karoo desert,
in remote South Africa, the living rock shows
little of itself. A solar battery, it brings light
to the fleshy taproot underground while evading
the sun’s heat, enough to sport a showy bloom
or two before dividing as a cell does, a perfect
model of mitosis. When the flower withers,
what’s left becomes another set of fleshy
surfaces. In the cleft from which the flower
grew, more clones begin to sprout like teeth.
What started as a single button spreads, only
waiting for the next rain to bring the rocks to life.

Silk Floss Tree

The silk floss tree, Cerba Speciosa, known in its native
South America as palo borracho—drunken stick—
or toborochi—tree of refuge—doesn’t seem
a likely refuge, at least not to me. Its bulbous
trunk, swollen at the bottom as a wineskin, sports
cruel thorns meant to strip the skin off any animal
bent on tasting tempting leaves or buds, though
I might sit beneath its spreading branches
on a hot day, admiring the pink flowers drifting
down on my bent head if I remembered not
to lean against the trunk. The hummingbird
alone can hover before its ample flowers, landing
on one petal like a bee while managing to miss
the thorns on every branch. I know it only
as an ornamental, growing in the narrow
strip between two lanes of traffic or in a park,
a home to wayward parrots, who love to hang
from its big pods that resemble deflated
volleyballs suspended from narrow stems.
Soon enough those pods will be fat purses,
full of that pink fluff that gives the tree its name,
a substance one can use to stuff a bolster
or construct a makeshift mattress. No wonder
it’s my favorite tree— not just bizarre
and beautiful, but useful—the seeds a source
of cooking oil, the bark handy for making rope.
And if I ever found myself in need of a canoe,
the wood would be ideal. Not everything
that’s beautiful is also delicate. If I should chop one
down, I’m confident a seed or two would sprout,
growing tall and wide in a short time, like the
specimen that grew to ninety feet in ninety years,
thirteen feet around. I want to thrive, full of
my own virtues, spreading shade on everyone,
dropping my pink blossoms to the ground.

In Praise of Earthworms: Lumbricus terrestris

Worms deserve better than they get
from us, feeding on rotted leaves,
enriching and aerating the soil.
We seldom see them, except
after a hard rain, when their burrows
flood, and they beach themselves
on an island of pavement. Or at night,
emerging like swimmers from the moist
earth, stretching full length on the moon-lit
lawn. Who knew that worms might
live up to six years, if they are lucky,
avoiding anglers or the bird that
listens hard for movements under
a scattering of castings, ready to
nab a worm when he rises into
the light? And who could blame
them? A great source of protein,
once purged of dirt, freeze-dried
worms may be added to bread
dough or a cake. Worms are neither
he nor she. Hermaphrodites,
they take on the gender most
convenient at the moment.
Afterwards, they tuck their eggs
into a handy sack around their middles,
like a rolled stocking on the ribbed
garden hose of the body, studded
all over with small bristles.

Let us praise the worm, that earnest
explorer, doing as much good
by pursuing its own concerns
as the most deliberate
philanthropist, feeding the world.

The Rhinoceros

How ridiculous is the rhinoceros, homely
and gray in his baggy skin, two horns jutting
from his upper lip like thorns from the bulbous
trunk of a pink floss tree. Ill-assembled,
as though someone had chosen at random
in the dark just this hoof, this face, these tiny
eyes, large ears, swiveling like radio telescopes
on the over-sized top of his head, covered
with coarse dusty hair. It’s true: those horns
are sharp, and rhinos have been known
to charge a person or a car, perhaps because
of their poor vision. But for all of that,
especially in captivity, where most
of the few remaining rhinos can be found,
he is rather sweet and vulnerable, munching
on a bit of grass with his odd rectangular jaw,
his long-lashed eyes blinking slowly in the sun,
as though dreaming of an endless veldt
where no one seeks to kill him for his horns,
imagining a secret power where there is none,
a prototype of male virility in a mostly-placid
herbivore, no stranger than a cow, oxpeckers riding
on his back, drinking from the pool of his mild eye.

© Robbi Nester

Robbi Nester is a retired college educator and the author of four books of poetry, editor of three anthologies, well as an elected member of the Academy of American Poets. Her poetry, reviews, articles and essays have been widely published in journals and anthologies. Learn more about her at

4 Replies to “Robbi Nester – Wildflower Abecedarian”

  1. I like how you thread one poem into the next with a barely transformed metaphor, moving, as nature does into new zones and places. However, I want to know all their names. I used to know many more names than I do now, but whether the vernacular or scientific name, I am fascinated by how we call everything we can see and conceive of something.

  2. These are all wonderful, earthy and magical at once.. love how you show us not all beautiful things are delicate, soft and graceful, but have other qualities, like toughness and adaptability, good defenses and endurance, surviving in extremities no hothouse frail could endure.

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