Mother Mushroom Teaches Her Children About Dispersal
You could fill a boxing glove with parts of me
that broke off and didn’t make it. But you did.
Bits of you will break off, too, and vanish
in the hands of wind. Don’t be afraid--
turn the sorrow into rage. And don’t listen to
that foreign wind. Remember our birches—
the bright tapestry of their stretch-marked bark,
their long voiceless push into the thin light, away
from the darkness of their roots. Nothing is lost.
The birch is at once in the new world and in the past,
here and there, this home and that home and nohome.
You’ll have to find home within yourself and keep low
till the chrome-cool night rain, then shoot your blood-red
fist through the loam—be their magic, be their poison.
Andrea Jurjević is a Croatian author. Her poetry collections include In Another Country, winner of the 2022 Saturnalia Books Prize; Small Crimes, winner of the 2015 Philip Levine Prize; and Nightcall, which was the 2021 ACME Poem Company Surrealist Series selection. Her book-length translations from Croatian include Mamasafari (Diálogos Press, 2018) and Dead Letter Office (The Word Works, 2020).
Mother Mushroom Tells You about Her Children--
They could be mistaken for tiny eggs or plain-spoken
drawer pulls—those cholesterol-curtailing, brain cell-
swelling button mushrooms.
Swiss browns cavort in meadows with caps fielding
raindrops from an angry sky as they roost in spring
Oaks & sweet gums sprout shitakes—pancake-flat
on top with batter-bubbles—like meditation
they amplify synapses.
Mulberry trees bathe enokis in carbon dioxide
for spindle shafts—heart-loving flower stems
topped with pearls.
Porcinis sway on a hickory-leaf ocean floor--
haunted sponges, hollow but filled with
They could be mistaken for knobs on hemlocks
or rough shards of bread—those protein-lavished
Gills & teeth & pores—I adore them as they flourish
in fawn & gold, as they slumber in baskets, as they flash
in pots under a sun-capped sky,
unite with deer & boar & squirrel & slug & scuttle fly & human.
Three of t.m. thomson’s poems have been nominated for Pushcart Awards. She is co-author of Frame and Mount the Sky (2017) and author of Strum and Lull (2019), which placed in Golden Walkman’s 2017 chapbook competition, and The Profusion (2019). Her first full-length collection, Plunge, will be published in 2023.
In the standing room only audience
of birch trees and grass we grow
from sifted spores ever so slowly
and then appear as if by magic,
becoming us where nothing
had been the day before,
our bright caps the only
evidence of blatancy
as we lift ourselves, our naked
stems of understatement
announcing that, in spite
of appearances, we did
arise here, were native to
rather than alien from,
were part and parcel
and pastel, patently,
one with this place,
our quiet and benign
exceptionality in abundance,
in excess even to this
abruptness, this hint
of what might yet still be
mitosing in the midst
of our swaying, our
Roy J. Beckemeyer
Roy J. Beckemeyer’s fifth book of poetry, The Currency of His Light, has been accepted for publication by Turning Plow Press for 2023. Beckemeyer’s work has been nominated for Pushcart and Best of the Net awards and has won Best Small Fiction. He has designed and built airplanes, discovered and named fossils of Palaeozoic insect species, and has traveled the world. Beckemeyer lives with and for his wife of 61 years, Pat, in Wichita, Kansas. His authors page is at royjbeckemeyer.com.
The Mushroom Family
Wearing red polka dot bonnets
to shade faces from the sun
and protect their heads
from the rain and cold, bodies
bare as the bark of the trees
that guard them, the sextuplets
huddle around their nude
and bonneted mother
banished to the forest
after her belly swells
and she pops out six seeds
of sin planted by soldiers who use her
as a plaything as they pillage.
She nourishes her babies
with breast milk, berries and herbs
and when they grow strong
and sturdy she will teach them
how to build bows and arrows
to hunt the bear and wolves
who howl and growl outside
her shelter but keep their distance
as she claps her hands and smoke
swirls from campfires she ignites
by rubbing rocks together.
She will teach the sextuplets to fashion
nets and poles to catch the salmon
swimming in the streams where she
washes the poison from their skin, toughening
and tanning as they survive in the wild.
Sharon Waller Knutson
Sharon Waller Knutson is a retired journalist who lives in Arizona. She has published ten poetry books and her poems have appeared in more than 50 publications including ONE ART, Muddy River Review and Rye Whiskey Review.
Mother Mushroom and the Sextuplets
Mother Mushroom had run out of sugar, milk and semolina. She’d run short of soap and washing powder. She’d run out of złoty for the electricity meter. When she ran up rent arrears, for the third month running, she bundled up her six puny girls and ran away from their threadbare bedsit. They ran from their landlord, Mr Złośliwy, a man with rheumy, roving eyes, a syrupy smile and short fuse, who hammered on their door, demanding his dues. They cut and ran, right out of town. ‘We’ll live in the forest,’ Mother Mushroom said. ‘We’ll feast on roots and berries, sleep under a blanket of stars, bathe in the morning dew.’
As the third night fell, the six girls huddled together while their mother told stories of the dragon of Krakow, Jánošik the highwayman, the frog princess. But the girls were famished and freezing. Chanterelle and Porcini were sobbing; Amanita’s stomach growled. Snow Puff, Oyster and Button raised their little wan faces expectantly towards their mama. Mother Mushroom looked down at her own white ribs protruding like the bars of a xylophone and contemplated running back to town. She pictured Mr Złośliwy’s pudgy, groping fingers; the way he leered at her daughters like a drooling dog. No. However bad things got, she would never sell her precious girls. Her own mother’s wicked ways, did not run in the family.
Mother Mushroom winced and bled, as she tore a tiny piece from her red speckled cap, took a nibble and passed it round. Within a short time, her babies were sleeping soundly. All night, the copse of silver birch shimmered a soft lament. Withered flesh, blood and spores mingled with moist, mossy earth and at dawn, six young women awoke, motherless but strong.
Jane Salmons is from Stourbridge in the UK. After teaching for nearly thirty years, Jane now works as a part time consultant teacher trainer and private tutor. Her debut poetry collection, 'The Quiet Spy', was published by Pindrop Press in 2022. In recent months she has become hooked on writing micro and flash fiction. Her website is: janesalmonspoetry.co.uk
Gazing on Okun’s Mother Mushroom’s grief,
Her children weeping round her ‘mid the trees,
I’m minded of how it’s been said the chief
Of Russian past-times is collecting these,
And how mushrooming, likewise, seems to be
A link which European peoples share –
The Poles, Ukrainians, an ethnic sea
Of those enjoying spongy steeples’ fare.
The covered faces and the forlorn eyes,
The knowledge of Okun’s own life cut short
By a stray bullet dressed in fortune’s guise,
He seemingly arrived at a safe port –
Each stir a longing for one who will bring
A bond that’s stronger than this foraging.
Jeremiah Johnson got his MA in Rhetoric in 2003 and then ran off to China to teach for a decade. His work has appeared in the Sequoyah and Ekphrastic Reviews and on The Society of Classical Poets. He is also currently a teacher of English Composition and World Literature at the University of North Georgia. He lives in Cumming, GA.
Oh Mother Aminita!
Your back slumped
Your head weary of its polka-dotted burden
Your children mirror you in mood and posture
Birch trees, your forest home, symbiotic partners
surround and support you
Why so woeful, amidst them?
Your children's bright red heads, poking up through the duff
Like shiny jewels, enchanting, arising out of earth
Cathonic, from the ancient Greek: dark, hidden, mysterious
Your mycelium spreading her tentacles, lacelike and delicate
Beneath the enveloping dirt
Oh SOMA of the ancient RigVeda
Mushroom of divine immortality
Have you lost your way?
Or do you mourn the ways of the world
Bearing the weight of her sorrows
In your magical body?
Born in Germany, mostly raised in Northern California. M.A. Women's Spiritual Traditions, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology (ITP) B.A. South Asian Studies, UC Berkeley Performing Artist, Dancer and teacher of Classical Indian Dances, Bharata Natyam and Odissi Eco-activist and advocate for honey bees, bats and other pollinators.
Mother Mushroom and Her Children
Magic Mushroom caps in the forest.
Have a nibble, have a mystical trip. Fly poison
makes you fly. Into the woods,
what do you see?
Make room for a cluster of mushrooms.
Mop-capped Mom. She’s tired, slumped,
surrounded by six little round ones.
One is fussing, two look like they might
join the sniveling soon. The other three
are faced away. Only caps for clothes.
All look overwhelmed, overtaken
by those caps. Grey green grass
underfoot, Japanese etched silver birch
glow of tree. A stand for hidden figures.
Wonder what they stand for. Shake your head,
then circle back to look again.
Mother’s expression is complex,
the baby shrooms make you think.
Fantastically painted, you could fear
a hoodwink. It’s not as innocent
as first glance.
Lynne Kemen lives in Upstate New York. Her chapbook, More Than A Handful, was published in 2020. Her poems have been published or are forthcoming in La Presa, Silver Birch Press, The Ravens Perch, Fresh Words Magazine, Topical Poetry, The Ekphrastic Review, and The Blue Mountain Review. She is an editor for The Blue Mountain Review and The Southern Collective Experience, both in Atlanta, Georgia. She is on the Board of Bright Hill Press in Treadwell, New York. She has a poetry book that will be published by SCE coming out in fall 2023.
The Dream of Fly Agaric
The eyes in the birch trunks are shut tight.
Only the ants, quietly going about their travails, up and down their trunks, know they are closed in sorrow, weeping tears of sap. Some become stuck in their viscous grief, knowing this as they die. If you were looking at this forest in a picture, you would not see the ants, but know that they are there. There were ravens and starlings too, in the branches but a moment before, now startled into flight into an invisible sky far above. They have taken all traces of wind with them, hiding it amongst their feathers.
The forest is silent.
Silent, but for one sound. A chorus of cries springs up from the mulch and damp earth, muted as if wrapped in moss. A litany of tiny wails, rising and falling. The birch trees lean in close, trying to shade this tragedy, though shade is not intrinsic to their sky-seeking nature. Their leaves are still, standing stiff and separate from one another, as if in mourning attire at a funeral. They are trying to hide their teeth in the late afternoon shadows.
Tall and pale, she sits in their centre, as she has always done since engendering them. The russet halo of her, radiating above and around her brood. The Madonna of her muscaria family, she took root first, alone, finding moss and moisture and shade on the forest floor beneath the copse of kindly birch trees. Then, she let loose her fertile rain of spores.
Here you may flourish, my little ones.
But now, all her children are crying, crying.
Already she misses the one who will not cry again. She stares at the place—now empty—where her youngest one dawdled and played. Gone. One precious babe, plucked from the protective folds of her ruffs. Helpless, she’d watched the man approach, his tell-tale sack slung over a shoulder.
Her children are inconsolable, small red caps drooping dolefully. The child who played next to the one taken has bruises on his cap.
Her beloved circle, broken.
Her arms hang, listless, from her torso, hands clasping at nothing but loss in her lap. She is naked in her grief and the birches are too tall to comfort her.
The artist has come to the forest to sketch in its solitude. He has brought a sack to gather any mushrooms he finds along the way.
He has foraged and eaten a few choice specimens with a flask of tea. Now he seats himself on a fallen log in a clearing, takes out his sketchpad and begins to draw the ring of bright red mushrooms in front of him, becoming absorbed in recording the little white dots on the caps, the resplendent head of the tallest in its centre. The more dots he draws, the more he seems to see. He stares at his hand, which sits now on the page like a heavy stone. It no longer belongs to his arm. It becomes a toad and hops away. His vision blurs, covered suddenly with a shower of white luminescence, like powder snow in moonlight. Drifting, dancing before his eyes.
He sees himself enter the scene he is drawing and pluck a single mushroom. On the page of his sketchpad, the quaint tranquillity of his woodland scene trembles and reshapes itself into something of quiet horror. He wonders how he didn’t see before—the mushrooms all have faces. And there is a sound, unlike any birdcall, emanating from the earth.
No matter how he tries, he cannot complete the circle, redraw the image of the mushroom he has picked, and the mother’s face is turned towards him in eternal reproach. His forehead drips sweat upon the page, and his hand can no longer hold the pencil.
The wood sways and writhes and reaches over him, and he falls to the ground. He sees himself get up and begin to draw the scene again, although he feels the damp grass still beneath his head. Drawing frantically, he sees himself enter the scene and pluck—pluck—pluck--
The eyes of the birch trees are shut tight.
Melissa Coffey is an Australian writer and poet, residing in Melbourne. A former theatre director, her work is often tinged with darkness. Her short stories, poetry, and creative nonfiction are published (sometimes incognito) in international and Australian anthologies (The Mammoth Book series, Stringybark Stories) and literary journals (Not Very Quiet, Illura Press). Her creative work often explores themes of loss, absence and desire. Melissa is an editor for Scrittura, a poetry and prose publication on Medium.com, where she’s an active writer. She’s currently seeking publication for her first chapbook. Her second collection will explore the potential of myth and fairy tale to interrogate, subvert and re-imagine the feminine experience.
Midwinter gloom seemed lightened by the hats
Of Mother Mushroom and her kids, which glow
To distant eyes. But closer eyes know that's
How distance tends to lend, to views, a faux
Enchantment. Underneath her hat there lurked
Regret. The tears in Mother Mushroom’s eyes
Mourned days gone by when nature’s magic worked
Unfalteringly to revitalize
Spent forest. Yet today no fauna stay
Here. Moths are gone, the birds have flown and deer
Refuse to graze. The erstwhile forest way
Of life has disappeared. A creeping fear,
Of what may come, alarms the children and
Makes Mother Mushroom weep for her old land.
Mike Mesterton-Gibbons is a Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at Florida State University who has returned to live in his native England. His acrostic sonnets have appeared in Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, Better Than Starbucks, the Creativity Webzine, Current Conservation, the Daily Mail, the Ekphrastic Review, Grand Little Things, Light, Lighten Up Online, MONO., the New Verse News, Oddball Magazine, Rat’s Ass Review, the Satirist, the Washington Post and WestWard Quarterly.
What am I to do
with my new brood
of adorable yet deadly
white spotted mush babies,
so much more
than just cap and stem,
each one blessed
with a personality all its own;
how easy it was
when you were fungal spores
but here you are now exposed,
visibly drooping umbrella tops
and fruiting bodies
with Super Mushroom
powers to create the next generation
of intoxicating toadstools,
for those who dare
to harvest and imbibe.
Elaine Sorrentino, communications director by day, poet by night, has been published in Minerva Rising, Willawaw Journal, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Ekphrastic Review, Writing in a Women’s Voice, Global Poemic, ONE ART: a journal of poetry, The Door is a Jar, Agape Review, Haiku Universe, Sparks of Calliope, Muddy River Poetry Review, Panoply, Etched Onyx Magazine, and at wildamorris.blogspot.com. She was recently featured on a poetry podcast at Onyx Publications.
Mum is like a mushroom shedding spores
as she shows us how to dust beneath her lacy table mats,
hand-crocheted in cotton by some great-aunt, long dead.
One word from Mum and our house-air swirls, spreading
flurries of microorganisms: we refuse to inhale or ingest.
We do not wish to know how to bring a brilliant shine to
brass shoehorns or silver bowls or other useless heirlooms,
or how to clean the upright piano’s keys. And why must
we polish all those photo frames on display on her dresser?
Must we pick up tricks for moth, fly and cobweb catching
or know how to treat mould, sprouting on old windowpanes?
It’s mind-numbing. Mum says more tasks will help us grow.
Then she sighs. We sigh too. To us, these chores are toxic.
Based in the United Kingdom, Dorothy Burrows enjoys writing poetry, flash fiction and short plays. Her poems have appeared in various journals including The Ekphrastic Review.
“Why, mother?”, her daughters wept
for the loss of their sister, gone
when they awoke that morning.
“My children, it’s the way of the forest”,
mother sadly replied, even as the little ones
bowed small red-spotted heads and cried harder.
“Humans are cruel creatures, treacherous
planners; they know we Amanita Muscaria
are beautiful to look at, but deadly to eat.
This glen was once resplendent with our kin,
so lovely our red caps, mistaken for berries,
delighted in their gathering, a terrible find.”
Her daughters gazed upon her in wonder, face
solemn in grief as she spoke. “We are all
that’s left; in their greed, men have stolen kin
for their poison. Who knows why we cannot
be left to live.” The children wailed their tears.
“Can we not hide, change our appearance, that
we might survive, mother?” one daughter begged.
Mother shook her head slowly, “they would find
us, my dear one, as that is the way of humans.
We are precious to them for our poison, not that
we nourish the ground for trees and plants to grow”
“Men cannot leave the earth to its balance, purpose
of all plants and creatures to coexist in peace; they
must fight and conquer. Soon we will be gone, our
kind, like so many others.” Mother looked at barren
forest floor. She grieved for her lost kin, but more
for Gaia whose harmony humans will destroy.
Julie A. Dickson
Julie A. Dickson is a poet who has dabbled in Ekphrastic poetry for several years, who loves a prompt and has been writing poetry since her teens. Her work appears in many journals including Kiss My Poetry, Blue Heron Review, Misfit and The Ekphrastic Review. Dickson has been a guest editor, a past poetry board member, holds a BPS in Behavioral Science, advocates for captive elephants and shares her home with two rescued feral cats.
She sits there, young, lithe
bonny young lass with
the big, billowy
strawberry coloured hat
studded with white pips
like a shaggy inkcap -
I wonder if it, too,
not black fungal ink
but blood red of
And the six babies?
in matching bonnets
right down to their polka dots
(Like this group, a polka
turns out to be Bohemian,
surprisingly, not Polish)
An eye-catching family ensemble
but it's the strawberry trees
that hold my gaze,
background that swims forward -
the peeling camo bark
as if the tigerish patterns
could ever conceal
and her children
Emily Tee writes poetry and flash fiction. She's had pieces published online in The Ekphrastic Review and for its challenges, and elsewhere, and in print in some publications by Dreich as well as several poetry anthologies. She lives in England.
I smell the mother among the stand of white birch trees,
where she sits
with her babies
on a patch of
I smell old rain,
of invisible leaves.
God without clothes.
O mother surrounded
by her children
in the wood, you
will be forgiven
when they stop
asking for white
feathers with their
shamed eyes. I want to know the fairy tale you tell them
with your longing
and why you
will not weep.
Where are your clothes?
I want to believe
this is a game
where all of you
fall down after
the dance. Which
will be embraced
by the angel
hiding in the trees?
Do not let them
sleep near owls.
Tell me, what have they eaten? How long must they stay?
Lenny DellaRocca founded South Florida Poetry Journal-SoFloPoJo. He has handed over management to his Managing Editor, and has started another poetry review embedded in SoFloPoJo, called Witchery, a place for Epoems. His work may be found online and in print in many journals. He's published five collections.
They Are No Longer Children Now
They'd rather be the children still...
...who hadn't misbehaved...
...and disobeyed their mother's will...
...and ranted so and raved...
...who left their books on floors unread
with arrogance to think
that they could be to water led
but never forced to drink...
...who left their toys where last they played
not properly in chest
. and piled their clothes up disarrayed
wherever they undressed...
...who left their hair and teeth unbrushed
and hands and face with grime
and fibbed that they were always rushed
and never given time...
...who failed to pray before they crawled
in beds they hadn't done
where crumbs of cookies snuck had sprawled
like rivers might have run.
But they are merely mushrooms now
(along a wayward path)
that all too well remember how
the ire of mother's wrath
would cause her to remind them each
in stern but gentle voice
temptation was the devil's call
to punishment by choice,
and they would soon be mushrooms seen
who mourned the bitter fate
of being left in shaded green
by birch as devil's bait
to live as flower never known
for beauty of its bloom
but ugliness forever shown
as harbinger of doom,
where, though imagined, mother seen
is cruelty of curse --
she isn't really there as hope,
but gone to make it worse,
and all that they can do is wait
and fear a hunter's hand
will pluck them and be poisoned too
as evil shrewdly planned.
Portly Bard: Old man. Ekphrastic fan.
Prefers to craft with sole intent...
of verse becoming complement...
...and by such homage being lent...
ideally also compliment.
Ekphrastic joy comes not from praise
for words but from returning gaze
far more aware of fortune art
becomes to eyes that fathom heart.
Wooden Fairy Garden Mushrooms
"The dimensions of fantasy was entertwined...wiith musical
rhythms permeating both the human soul and nature..."
On the work of Edward Okun, Wiki Research
"Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth's scars."
Try To Praise The Mutilated World,
Adam Zagajewski, translated by Clare Cavanaugh
"I kept dreaming of snow and birch forests
Where so little changes you hardly notice how time goes by...
--- As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now."
A Song At The End of The World
Czeslaw Milosz, translated by Anthony Milosz
She was running out of red fabric. In winter she bought velvet for holiday hats
to outfit her six daughters and a costume for the Siberian Shaman who'd given her
the gift of magic, a pouch filled with dried mushrooms fruit of fungi that yielded
splendiferous dreams (her therapist called them hallucinatory) the promise of love
on a reindeer safari... Her husband refused to take her, although she swore that to see
the land covered with ice, the reindeer flying out over the landscape -- O such sights!
but no, he had said it is absolutely not what I want to do for our holiday! So no passion
in a Lapland hut the flame of the small portable stove cheery before it spluttered out
like an alarm clock just at midnight, the spell of night music enhanced by reindeer
making reindeer sounds (what does a reindeer sound like, what Nordic music?)
the frigid cold announcing that it was time to go (their caretaker in a red suit said so)
and even under the mind-altering spell of the mushrooms she'd pricked her finger
over and over (blood, sweat and tears) using simple red cloth to be Mother Mushroom,
and to make hats so her girls would remember that when mushrooms wear hats, life
is a fantasy! She had drawn tempting circles -- air candy in cotton, a marshmallow
memory of winter and snowballs -- spots for hats by a mother known for her polka-dots
when babies popped out beneath birch trees and fairy wings fluttered in wind-trembled
branches. Uprooted (hasty, insouciant) she'd tippled sweet tree sap to celebrate,
and planned a new life weaving wood strips: when the birches shed bark like snake's skin,
her children would have mats to sleep on; and baskets to carry the forest's good fortune
to plant in the Queen's elegant garden a natural expression of spingtime, fairy fungi
wearing red hats from Mother Mushroom and Her Children. In the garden, she dreamed,
her girls could grow wild, exempt from decorum (colorful as hors d'oeuvres, nutritious,
not poisonous*) beneath royal trees where the grasses made a susurrate synphony
to entertain princes and princesses -- figures the artist had chosen to wear clothes,
lavishly costumes in Art Nouveau -- one gent wore a cape, butterflies at the nape,
as if words could fly from a voice inside, collecting winged memories... In winter
when blue minarets and rotund blue roofs gave the impression of glass -- ocean-blue glass
and mushroom-shaped hats -- they were bluer than blue in Siberian sunlight, no palaces
like them in a forest. Mother Mushroom sighed, suddenly tired, hoping for a new expression --
maybe a smile -- as the artist drew fairies with a shelf life time limited by the size
of his canvas woodland. Was she -- the Mother -- about to lose face? Her fairy-girl shape,
dehydrated by global warming? Too poor, too thin, too un-spritely for him? A model
like a puppet -- a failed fairy puppet -- Ms. Wooden Garden Mushroom, the millinery
matron in fairyland? With 6 mushroom daughters he'd named for his travels -- Amalfi,
Capri, Venice, Ravenna, Siena and Florence -- the places he visited as a Young Poland
Artist -- a student in Rome his work faraway from Shakespearean ardor, A Midsummer
Night's Dream, psychedelic? How to tell it? For his art knew the magic of fairy tale,
how time is suspended, one night in the forest; in the next, in her mind, with fairies
and reindeer, in a flight fueled by mushrooms branches of antlers framing the landscape
in a journey by poem to a springtime of change: Assigned to my brush come colors,
ready now to be described better than they were before.
*Wooden Fairy Garden Mushrooms are edible when boiled.
Laurie Newendorp lives and writes in Houston. Her book of poetry, When Dreams Were Poems, explores the relationship of art to life and writing. Having found happiness as a mother, she questions Mother Mushroom's facial expression: what has caused her to look upset in a fairy tale woodland? I she trapped by reality? The feeling of entrapment in Polish poets influenced by Russian domination is a subject that was discussed by one of the poet's professors, Adam Zagajewski, whose beautiful poem "Try To Praise The Mutilated World" appeared on the back page of the black-covered New Yorker after 911. Milosz was mentioned in Zagajewski's classroom (one of his poems is "Reading Milosz") and the last line in Wooden Fairy Garden Mushrooms is a quote from "Late Ripeness" by Milosz, translated, with Milosz, by Robert Hass.