Karen May: Four Poems

Solanum bauerianum (Bridal Flower)¹
The New South Wales Threatened Species Scientific Committee… has made a Final Determination to list the shrub Solanum bauerianum Endl., Bridal Flower as a SPECIES PRESUMED EXTINCT.²

Within this bottle’s glassy hold:

∼ my last grey-green leaf
∼ three yellow-anthered flowers in five-gored silk-white skirts
∼ and a single scarlet berry, elegantly calyxed (if you will allow)

With this I commit my treasured story to the sea.

Island castaway, last scion of a grand family,
too long to tell the branched nomenclature
of my genealogy. Enough to say, my filigreed
roots and buds draft a copperplate pedigree.

Some may think my family a clan of aristocratic
poisoners, the stuff and spice of imperial traders,
and starch-collared gentleman sailors; players in
the shaded nights of gold and land bagging history.

But here alone, with stores running low, I bow
before the wind on this 1830 Pacific island, and
push this small transparent vessel out to sea.
Cradle well my precious progeny.


Bobbing on cerulean currents, I left my father
on his isle; sailed the ocean wide with jellyfish
and whale, and took our tale sou’-west toward
a vast old shard of Gondwanaland.

But the winds did not prevail, and my simple ship
tipped and tumbled across the strand of a crescent
shaped island. A volcano’s remnant tower cast
shadows on the waves and lacing spray beneath.

Here I lived in benevolent domesticity for one
hundred years, less or more, dreaming of my father’s
wilder shore. Though carefully tended, my roots, in pallid
circumnavigation, tapped the bounds of garden urn.

Yellow washed, in etiolated stem and leaf, lacking
the beloved niche of home – by estimate I departed
this earth’s vine in the year 1949. But my vegetal
line, though pressed and frail, was hanging on.

Across other seas, my cousin dear lay in archival
sleep, a finely labelled taxon of Viennese museology.
Silent bride, her white skirts neatly laid, there between
the Norfolk kaka and bar-tailed godwit, dry-beaked

and stern. A stray draught lifted her long unwanted
vows, and she rose to peek above her drawer’s nest,
there to greet and drink the loaded brush that greened
her sweet throat’s stem.

There followed tiny burnished strokes, globing
her round red fruit in cadmium. The code of 19th
century gentlemen was cracked, releasing
her fresh and finely coloured song.

In the year 2006 my island family was revived
– for a few more years – receiving, in muted libraries
and low-lumen museum halls, the disquieted light
of 21st century eyes.

¹ Extinct shrub of Norfolk and Lord Howe Islands, belonging to the family Solanaceae – the nightshades – which includes potatoes, tomatoes, chillies, tobacco and belladonna. For more of the biography of Solanum bauerianum, and an illustration by botanical artist Marion Westmacott, see David J. Mabberley, 2017, Painting by Numbers: The life and art of Ferdinand Bauer, NewSouth Publishing, UNSW Press Ltd, Sydney, Australia, pp. 152-159.

² Solanum bauerianum – species presumed extinct listing: https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/topics/animals-and-plants/threatened-species/nsw-threatened-species-scientific-committee/determinations/final-determinations/2008-2010/solanum-bauerianum-species-presumed-extinct-listing





leave the slips
the leaves
so we
may follow
a branching
through other,
and lost
forests, rustling
still among the



in the spaces

wondering sits

a shy animal
sniffing the air
for clues

can all the world’s ripe fruits
in eye and sense

be shared in silent lines
in quiet rhymes
in worldly absence?

like a fine shoot
the mossy vellum
of a forest floor

like swift tracks
the sandy sentence
of a dry lake’s shore

like a plume of fear
on the rising intonation
of a quarried hare.


Poets’ train to Bungendore, October 2020

A slow train is our promise, but departure
comes up fast. And my swaddled breath
is drawn against the weave of a last-minute

cotton mask. Underway already, out by
Fyshwick’s flattened cars and timber yards.
Then the railway cutting rises up beside us,

red earth topped by green – the rain has called
out the colours of spring. We’re too late for
wattle’s yellow, but water has pushed up

Patterson’s purple. Coming into Queanbeyan,
the skate park painted navy blue and orange,
and the station buildings rendered terracotta

red with sandstone-yellow quoining. Over the
river, into the land of lichened rocks, where
chicken wire holds up the geology in listing

lithic stacks. Cherry Ballarts – hugging their
eucalyptus hosts – are pointing up and peering
down, as into a dark tunnel we go with a honk

of horn – like coots tooting through a reedy
night. Back in bright, the stony cutting is climbing
up the woolly clouds and the plucked slopes

recall their crop of pines. Another hushing
tunnel, then small clouds of flowering hawthorn
reflect the bursting cotton of bigger blooms

coming down. Gleaming trunks of gums – I fall
into your arms, while blue and white make
fine-fitting puzzle pieces up ahead. Once again

into the dark, then light, and now the hills stretch
out as the last cutting’s red-earth curtain comes
down. Passing big puffs over Weereewaa, we

pick up speed – we’re chasing old pines along
fence lines and writing our way into the breeze
on Bungendore station.

 – Karen May


Karen May’s poetry has been published by Bluepepper, Cicerone Journal and Poetry d’Amour 2020 Anthology, WA Poets Inc. She is a climate and ecological activist, animal helper and artist, and lives in Ngunnawal/Ngambri Country.



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