13 Oct 2023
The Mushroom’s Fourth Side
An Original Poem for the MAPS Bulletin
By Sophie Strand
MAPS Bulletin: Volume XXXIII Number 2 • 2023
Sporocarps in rings or arcs are the shape
of a decaying mother deer, severed hand,
or marshland that has dried into layered grass.
Easy to sit down or stray into these necrotic zones.
The child recognizes a half circle, luminescent freckle of earth,
as the reflection of the expression of moon.
For a minute, tiny feet bubbled upwards. Elf ring,
sprite circle; or perhaps this is the sputum of underworld.
Here, only four years ago, a tomcat was buried in a paper bag.
He was tawny and sleek. The mushrooms, too, blink
into color like the underside of a flame.
Flat-headed fungi seat the small beings. Toadstool
blushes blanches according to rhythm of nutrients
unseen. Puffball sighs and bloats. On a long walk
through the bluffs, I spotted tiny, changeable faces
connected to bodies below the dirt. How remarkable.
How strange. Perhaps a death below?
Examining the uprooted corpse, see the stem
is a simplified neck. This time, no need of spine.
The cap protects fleshly forehead. Gills to suck up
morning dew, punctuating the structure with lamella lace.
In southeast Sweden, a soil analysis of wood blewit
under a Norway spruce and Scots Pine yielded
fourteen halogenated low molecular weight
organic compounds indicating terrestrial fungi.
But for me, these are pink bones bunched up
out of the ground.
There are two similarities.
Amanita phalloides imitating Amanita caesarea.
Sometimes, said someone once, we dine
next to gods of death. Death cap’s damp non-color
is the shade of Siddhartha on his deathbed.
Sébastien Vaillant noted in 1727 the strange fact
that a fool’s mushroom occasionally destroys angels.
I remember this was no longer remarkable
after the seventh poisoned day. Dehydrated, I
yellowed against bed sheets. Yet how delicious they were,
as if I was eating the ear lobe of an outer planet.
Young death cap emerges from its universal veil.
Then a small population of notable healers, politicians, courtesans
take a breath, share wine, start the meal.
Tomorrow we will all take mushrooms at the same time.
Everything is planned. Everything is in order.
Somebody has found a field for us, a springtime.
The color of the sky reversed. The whole canoe trip
backwards. A country including Inocybe, Mycena,
Copelandia, Galerina. All of these names suggested
by the mummified skins of living things ingested
in order to understand my mother. The reason the clock
reminded me of black wind through conifers. No relation
but I had to know. Retching for hours. Hands out over
the offal pit. My arms doubled, tripled until I could hold
the whole thing. It’s all initiation. The entire forest is edible.
So is the hillside. Everything in its proper place makes a mythology,
makes a food, makes the insides of a mind visible
in the soft shell of an upside-down mushroom.
Sophie Strand is a writer based in the Hudson Valley who focuses on the intersection of spirituality, storytelling, and ecology. Her first book of essays The Flowering Wand: Rewilding the Sacred Masculine was published in 2022. Her eco-feminist fictional reimagining of the gospels The Madonna Secret will also be published by Inner Traditions in August and is available for pre-order. Subscribe for her newsletter at sophiestrand.substack.com. Follow her work on Instagram: @cosmogyny and at www.sophiestrand.com.