7.02 / February 2012


“The secret of improved plant breeding,
Apart from scientific knowledge,
          is love.” So said
Luther Burbank one morning while strolling
The nursery grounds of Gold Ridge Farm
          with that curious, bemused

Technician of consciousness, Yogananda. They’d

Been friends for many years, and were discussing
His attempts to produce a spineless cactus. “You have
     nothing to fear,”
          he would tell them. “You don’t
Need your defensive thorns. I will protect you…”
Not cloyingly, but in the American fashion of encouragement:

Matter-of-factly, though the facts themselves were debatable.

That afternoon, the heat was calm and total. Unevolved
     rows of cacti
Bristled like migraines in the head.
     Swishing past

A particularly large specimen, Yogananda’s robe caught
On a budding prickly pear. It took three strong yanks to free himself.

“It could be, Luther, they have read your book on child rearing!”
          In the American fashion, Burbank had had
None from his own loins, but chased them all down

With an opinion.) “Maybe, Paramahansa, maybe. But when
I’ve finished rearing him, he really will be able to read!”

Weeks later, when the buds broke, he plucked a few and
     brewed them in his tea.


Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz
Was not a beautiful woman. But marrying into royalty
In a time when beauty was a kind of

          Intelligence to be cultivated by ladies and queens,
She offset her natural handicap
With dignity and good taste and charity. “The English

People did not like me much,” she said, looking back
               on her reign, “because
I was not pretty.” But claimed that the carriage accident

Which broke her nose was a stroke of luck,
Since it damaged her ugliness just enough

To achieve some small corner of beauty. An
Amateur botanist, she understood

The importance of careful breeding. Kew Gardens
Was her grandchild, and Bach and Mozart
               her beneficiaries.
Educator of daughters, beautiful and ugly, nursemaid

To her husband king, who wriggled like an eel
          in hand, in his madness-
Her calm humor became something of an African flower

In her later years, when she was dead:
     The “Bird of Paradise”,
Strelitzia Reginae, as indestructible and
     slow-growing as the cactus,

And, unpredictable as its loveliness,
Official flower of the City of Los Angeles.

Kyle Thompson lives in Louisville, Kentucky. Recent work of his has appeared or is forthcoming in Boston Review, New American Writing, and Country Music.
7.02 / February 2012