by Cindy Hunter Morgan
When I see a dandelion in my yard, I usually dig it up and throw it in the compost. I know I should eat my dandelions or make wine from them or wait for them to turn to fuzz and then make a wish and blow my hopes into the troposphere, but it’s also satisfying to pry a weed out like a nail gone soft. People used to pull grass out of their yards to make more room for dandelions. Maybe wine was harder to acquire back then. Maybe people believed more fervently in their wishes.
My neighbor’s yard is pocked with dandelions. They’re going to seed: from sun to moon to stars, my grandma used to say. But that old triptych ignores the roots, and dandelion taproots go as deep as fifteen feet. Deeper than a casket. Emily Dickinson ignored the roots, too, when she wrote about the little Ether Hood slipping away, “A Nothing at a time –”.
That kind of going is what most of us want – and don’t want. We want a going that is delicate and easy, but we don’t want to scatter into 200 parts of Nothing. Or we do want to scatter and become more than we are/were, but we want to think of it as something. Nothing is a beautiful, terrifying, abstract expanse, as Dickinson understood. An average dandelion head has about 200 florets, or 200 Nothings.
In another poem, Dickinson wrote, “I’m Nobody, who are you?” She also wrote, “Nothing is the force / that Renovates the World.”
If nothing is a force then every dandelion has 200 florets of…force. I like thinking of a floret as a unit of force, like a newton or a kip. I like thinking about hitching Nothing to a stoneboat at the county fair and seeing what it can pull.
Dandelion seed heads are also called blowballs and, more poignantly, clocks.
I’ve read that a seed can travel 500 miles on the wind. That seems more arbitrary than scientific, but then, a unit of force is arbitrary. What happens to a seed at mile 500? Maybe the little parachute disintegrates, frays into something tattered and flightless. And yet. Dust floats.
Here is something I’d like to believe. In 1881, when Emily Dickinson was fifty-one, she made a wish on the rounded head of a spent dandelion and blew the seeds into the sky above Amherst. Forty-four years later, my grandpa camped in the Catskills with his cousin, and one of those old seeds, which, in 1881, had traveled about 100 miles before settling in a picnic hamper in New York, fell out of the picnic hamper (which had changed hands) into a book my grandpa was reading. My grandpa brought the book (there is no frigate like a book) back to Michigan, where, later, for roughly seventy-five years, the book and the seed sat on a dark shelf in a corner bedroom. When my grandpa died, I brought the book back to my house, where it sat on a dark shelf for about ten years until one day when I carried it outside and opened it to the exact page where the seed hid, and the seed blew into my yard.
Now Emily Dickinson’s dandelion – an heirloom dandelion – is blooming in my yard, and I am staring at 200 Nothings that came from Nobody, wondering what to do. In one ear, Dickinson whispers, “The Past is such a curious Creature.” In another ear she whispers, “You cannot make Remembrance grow / When it has lost its Root.” If I squint, I can turn the yellow blossom into a tiny Elizabethan ruff or a power button to another world. Pick your century. The dandelion will take you there.
CINDY HUNTER MORGAN is the author of a full-length poetry collection and two chapbooks. Harborless (Wayne State University Press) is a 2018 Michigan Notable Book and the winner of the 2017 Moveen Prize in Poetry. She writes regularly for Murder Ballad Monday, a blog devoted to the exploration of the murder ballad tradition in folk and popular music. Her work has appeared in a variety of journals, including Tin House Online, Salamander, Passages North, and West Branch. She taught creative writing, poetry, and book arts at Michigan State University for many years and now heads up communications for the Michigan State University Library.