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Winter 2006, vol 4 no 4




Anita Virgil

                                                         between clouds and tears
                                                         all day
                                                         only cheery thing:
                                                         cascades of gold
                                                         Scots' broom         1

Great drooping gold-filled branches of this large shrub dot the Virginia roadsides. Two have found their way into my woods where the sun reaches in.

Unlike forsythia, these branches. Unfit for idle snapping off to stuff a pitcher with first spring color. But so tempting these waxy radiant blooms, abundant, spilling over each other down deep green woody stalks! Day after day on my mundane journeys, each May, mound after mound blooms, richly set off against newly leafed-out trees.

First time I saw it, curiosity led me to my field guides, gardening books, dictionaries, which variously describe it as Scots' broom, Scotch broom, Cytisus scoparia or Genista, or simply "broom." Of the pea family, or others said, of the bean family. (Long ago, when studying mushrooms, I became acquainted with Latin names. I also learned to recognize minor but confusing discrepancies from book to book. Eventually, truth sifts out.)

For me, the mere naming of things locks in a kind of ownership. "Broom." Now my mind could hold onto it.

And much as I love the wistful vagueness of this haiku

                                                             Sticking on the mushroom,
                                                 The leaf
                                                             Of some unknown tree.

                                                                                               Basho        2

I am not content until I learn what leaf it is, what mushroom.

Reading the simplest definition

"broom  A common name for two genera of woody plants, Cytisus and Genista" in The New Garden Encyclopedia ( Wise & Co., Inc., NY, 1946),

and absorbed by English history since my first visit to London, something clicked in my mind: plant + Genista. In an older book I treasure, New Standard Dictionary (Funk & Wagnalls, 1911), I looked up Plantagenet on a hunch. And there it was:

"Plantagenet  A patronymic applied since the 15th century (when the House of York adopted it) to the English kings, from Henry II (1154) to the accession of the House of Tudor (1485), who were descended from Geoffrey of Anjou . . ."

It goes on to say that Geoffrey was "the ancestor of the Plantagenet kings of England . . . from his habit of wearing the common broom of Anjou (the planta genista) in his helmet.

[ <F., plante--gent, broom plant, < L. planta, plant, ad, to, genesta, broom.] "

And here am I, living in this former English colony named after the Virgin Queen, suspecting the Scots and English who settled it - many of whose descendants still live here -- brought broom with them for medicinal purposes, as they brought so many other plants from across the ocean. Queen Anne's lace, another alien. Now, so common along the roadsides in summer, it is looked upon as a wild flower. But in the beginning, someone valued it.

A few years before
September. I linger in shadowy Bishop's Park in southwest London on a cloudy day. Waiting for the boys. The twins have disappeared into the gloom beneath huge ancient trees to find suitable sticks for arrow shafts and a bow.

We have brought them each an Indian arrowhead from Virginia. (Our home, where occasionally Indian artifacts surface after heavy rains or when I dig in my gardens, was likely once a Monacan Indian site.) Idly, I wander off a bit.

Out of the distant dim recesses a familiar gold glows. Scots' broom. Here, too?

I burrow into the tall scratchy shrub, pocket knife in hand, to snitch a small spray for the children. The stocky main branches are straight, then arch and launch out into many thin flower-laden branches that reach the ground. None grow upright. Suddenly it comes to me: this is a shrub of upside-down brooms! Same shape as the old-fashioned 'witch broom' that has hung beside my fireplace for nearly half a century.

These are what must have been used to sweep dirt-floored houses centuries ago. And as Cooper was the surname given to those who made barrels, once last names finally came into use, and Shoemaker was the name given to those who made shoes, Shipwright the name for those who built boats, and Carpenter, and Arrowsmith, Miller and Brewer, etc. . . . how simple, how amazing, these ordinary things seen anew.

The boys emerge smiling. Each holds up a long straight stick and a longer one. We head for their home to get their bows and arrows made. In misting drizzle, under a cloud-heaped English sky, we leave the park behind with its blue iron railing beside the gray waters of the Thames. And I hold my little stolen branch of Scot's broom to tell them about -- in this marvelous city where centuries ago the Plantagenets reigned.

1 Anita Virgil
2 Haiku, R. H. Blyth, Vol. 3 Summer-Autumn (Hokuseido Press, 1952, 1968.), p. 313.
Photo credits: "Broom blossoms" by Jennifer V. Gurchinoff,
                     "Twins," "Broom shrub," and "Path with Blue Railing " by Anita Virgil.

Anita Virgil Anita Virgil lives in Forest, Virginia. She is a past president of the Haiku Society of America. She was a member of the three-person HSA Committee on Definitions which included Harold G. Henderson and William J. Higginson. As a member of the Book Committee for A Haiku Path (HSA, Inc., 1994), she edited the two chapters on Definitions.

Books: A 2nd Flake (1974), one potato two potato, etc. (1991, Peaks Press); on my mind, an Interview of Anita Virgil by Vincent Tripi (3rd edition, Press Here, 1993); PILOT (1996, Peaks Press); A Long Year (2002, Peaks Press); an eBook, summer thunder (2004, Peaks Press). She is the editor of a second eBook, muddy shoes candy heart (2005), poems by the Serbian poet Sasa Vazic. She has collaborated with Robert D. Wilson on the recently completed collection of their poetry entitled Come Dance With Me.

Her poetry, essays and book reviews have appeared internationally in major haiku magazines and anthologies for over 35 years. Most recently, she appears in the anthologies Where Dogs Dream (2003, MQP London); Haiku for Lovers (2003, MQP London); Haiku (2003, Alfred A. Knopf Everyman's Library edition). Poems and essays have also appeared online and in magazines and newspapers in Japan, New Zealand, the Philippines, Yugoslavia, Croatia, Slovenia, Russia and Serbia/Montenegro.

Of her work, Anita writes: I always had and still have a single goal for haiku and related genres -- that it be poetry, that it sit comfortably in its uniqueness amid the literature of the world. There is no reason for it not to since the best artists speak "to our capacity for delight and wonder, to the sense of mystery surrounding our lives: to our sense of pity, and beauty, and pain."*

* from Nigger of the Narcissus by Joseph Conrad.
Photograph by Jennifer V. Gurchinoff