Friday, January 13, 2017

Jack Scott writes

The Poison Garden
Part I
Mushroom menagerie, 

peaceable kingdom of
the toxic and the tasty,
and all that lies between:
a danger to the dilettante.

I didn’t spot them
from the logging road
because they were too large
for casual credibility,
but when I stopped my car
to rest it from its uphill labors
I looked and saw and was afraid
in recognition of the giant deadlies:
the yellow Death Cap,
seven inches broad,
Destroying Angel, red with white pimples,
six inches wide,   
Amanita muscaria,
nine inches across,
toadstools almost large enough to sit upon -
a deceptive hall of fame:
the deadly, poised like vipers
‘midst an enticing garden
of gourmet mushrooms
not only savoury,
but quite safe to eat.

Here be monsters!!!
This world was out of scale,
or I was Gulliver,
irreconcilable, but real.
rose canopied in columns 
as far as eye could see
into an endless forest
that seemed to have no other side. 
Like mesmerism inviting
at the edge of cliff or roof,
beguiling, tantalizing
like house of gingerbread
in a deep, dark wood.
No danger signs, none needed,
you feel it in your bones,
your tingling blood,
but your awe is stronger magnet
than your auguring alarms.

I cannot help myself:
I make the leap and plunge
selecting, picking
prehistoric mushroomry,
(where are the dinosaurs?)
with both hands, greedily,
this grove of fantasy,
overpowering awareness
of a car, a road, a long ride home
from here almost a thousand miles.
On this blackboard I’m erasing
what I came here to forget.

I realize the danger:
this is like petting cobras,
but these don’t hiss when touched
or strike reflexively,
their potent fangs unsheathed
and stabbing only
those who bite and swallow them,
though that is not full truth. 

If you handle some and, after, 
touch your mouth or tongue 
they may have their way with you, 
ironically or lethally: 
if you ingest a lot, you die, 
but a little is quite pleasant, 


  1. The Phalloideae contains all of the deadly poisonous Amanita species thus far identified. Death cap (Amanita phalloides; phalloides means "phallus-shaped") has been the cause of most human mushroom poisoning. The term "destroying angel" has been applied to A. phalloides at times, and other common names include "stinking amanita" and "deadly amanita." As little as half a cap (30 g; 1.1 oz) contains enough toxin to kill an adult human, and it resembles several edible species (most notably caesar's mushroom and the straw mushroom) commonly consumed by humans, increasing the risk of accidental poisoning. Amatoxins, the class of toxins found in these mushrooms, are thermostable: they resist changes due to heat and so, unlike many ingested poisons, their toxic effects are not reduced by cooking, freezing, or drying. Some amatoxins will cause irritation and severe pain and even damage to the eyes and skin on contact. They can be absorbed through the skin leading to the same potentially lethal effects as ingestion or inhalation. Some authorities strongly advise against putting suspected death caps in the same basket with fungi collected for the table and to avoid even touching them. Death caps have been reported to have a pleasant taste. This, coupled with the delay in the appearance of symptoms—during which time internal organs are being severely, sometimes irreparably, damaged—makes it particularly dangerous. Initially, symptoms are gastrointestinal in nature and include colicky abdominal pain, with watery diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting, which may lead to dehydration if left untreated, and, in severe cases, hypotension, tachycardia, hypoglycemia, and acid-base disturbances. These first symptoms resolve two to three days after the ingestion. A more serious deterioration signifying liver involvement may then occur—jaundice, diarrhea, delirium, seizures, and coma due to fulminant liver failure and attendant hepatic encephalopathy caused by the accumulation of normally liver-removed substance in the blood. Kidney failure (either secondary to severe hepatitis or caused by direct toxic kidney damage and coagulopathy may appear during this stage. Life-threatening complications include increased intracranial pressure, intracranial bleeding, pancreatic inflammation, acute kidney failure, and cardiac arrest. Death generally occurs six to sixteen days after the poisoning. The destroying angel (A. bisporigera and A. ocreata in North America or A. virosa in Europe) is closely related and among the most toxic mushrooms. It may be mistaken for edible fungi such as the button mushrooms, meadow mushrooms, or horse mushrooms. Symptoms include vomiting, cramps, delirium, convulsions, and diarrhea, but they do not appear for 5 to 24 hours, when the toxins may already be absorbed and the damage irreversible.

  2. A. muscaria (commonly known as the fly agaric or fly amanita; bug agaric was an old alternate name for the species) is psychoactive. An active dose in adults is approximately 6 mg muscimol or 30 to 60 mg ibotenic acid, about the amount found in one cap (a fatal dose has been calculated as 15 caps). A. muscaria cannot be commercially cultivated due to its mycorrhizal relationship with the roots of pine trees. This iconic toadstool is large, white gilled, white spotted, and usually red. Although classified as poisonous, reports of human deaths resulting from its ingestion are extremely rare, and it is eaten in parts of Europe, Asia, and North America after being parboiled (which weakens its toxicity and breaks down the mushroom's psychoactive substances). Drying may increase potency, as the process facilitates the conversion of ibotenic acid to the more potent muscimol. According to the North American Mycological Association, no reliably documented fatalities from eating this mushroom were recorded during the 20th century. Albertus Magnus was the first to record it, in his work "De vegetabilibus" some time before 1256, when he commented that "it is called the fly mushroom because it is powdered in milk to kill flies." An alternative derivation proposes that the term "fly" refers to the delirium caused by consumimg the fungus, due to the medieval belief that flies could enter a person's head and cause mental illness. Several regional names appear to be linked with this connotation, meaning the "mad" or "fool's" version of the highly regarded edible mushroom Amanita caesarea. Hence there is oriol foll "mad oriol" in Catalan, mujolo folo from Toulouse, concourlo fouolo from the Aveyron department in Southern France, ovolo matto from Trentino in Italy; a local dialect name in Fribourg in Switzerland is tsapi de diablhou, which translates as "Devil's hat." In remote areas of Lithuania A. muscaria mixed with vodka was consumed at wedding feasts, and the Lithuanians used to export it to the Lapps for use in shamanic rituals. It was widely used as an intoxicant and entheogen by the Paleosiberian-speaking peoples of the Russian Far East and by Uralric-speaking Siberians, though not by the Tungusic and Turkic peoples of central Siberia. In western Siberia, shamans used it to achieve a trance state.In eastern Siberia, it was used by shamans and laypeople alike, both recreationally and religiously, and ordinary people would drink the shamans' urine after they consumed it. (This urine, still containing psychoactive elements, may be more potent than the mushroom itself, with fewer negative effects such as sweating and twitching.) Among the Koryaks of eastern Siberia, the poor would consume the urine of the rich, who could afford to buy the mushrooms. According to the Koryaks, Vahiyinin ("Existence") spat onto earth, and his spittle became the wapaq (fly agaric), which enabled Big Raven to carry a whale to its home; Raven was so exhilarated by the esperience that he told it to grow forever on earth so his children, the people, could learn from it. These reports about Siberian usage led Samuel Ödmann to theorize in 1784 that vikings used it to produce their berserker rages. In 1968 R. Gordon Wasson proposed that the "soma" discussed in the Rig Veda was actually the mushroom, since one line described men urinating Soma, there was no mentin of roots, stems, or seeds, and the associated adjective "hári" (dazzling, flaming) may have meant red. In 1970 John Marco Allegro postulated that early Christian theology was derived from a fertility cult that revolved around the entheogenic consumption of A. muscaria.

  3. Lemuel Gulliver was the narrator of "Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships," first published in 1726 but amended in 1735. He was born in Nottinghamshire, where his father had a small estate, and studied at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, before becoming an apprentice to a London surgeon. Then he studied at the University of Leiden, while also teaching himself navigation and mathematics. He traveled to the Levant, the East Indies, and the West Indies, picking up High and Low Dutch, Latin, French, Spanish, Italian, Greek, Portuguese, and Lingua Franca. But his main travels were to the island country of Lilliput, inhabited by people who were less than 6 inches (0.50 ft) tall, who put great emphasis on trivial matters and reveled in displays of authority and performances of power; which end of a soft-boiled egg a person cracked was the basis of a deep political and religious rift. He was sentenced to be blinded for "making water" in the capital, though he was putting out a fire, but he escaped. On his next voyage he was abandoned on a peninsula on the western coast of North America, where he was exhibited as a curiosity by the simplistic 72-ft. Brobdingnagians, who enjoyed public executions and had beggar-infested streets. In the book's third voyage, the one that was last-written, he was a surgeon under Captain Robinson; after being marooned again, he was rescued off a desolate rocky island near India by the flying island of Laputa, a kingdom devoted to the arts of music, mathematics, and astronomy but unable to use them for practical ends. At the Grand Academy of Lagado in the vassal state of Balnibarbi, the scholars busied themselves by extracting sunbeams from cucumbers, softening marble to use it for pillows, learning how to mix paint by smell, and uncovering political conspiracies by examining the excrement of suspicious persons. On nearby Glubbdubdrib he visited a magician's home and discussed history with the ghosts of Julius Caesar, Brutus, Homer, Aristotle, René Descartes, and Pierre Gassendi. On the island of Luggnagg, he encountered the immortal struldbrugs who were considered legally dead at the age of 80 since they did not have eternal youth. Then he proceeded to Japan and asked the emperor "to excuse my performing the ceremony imposed upon my countrymen of trampling upon the crucifix." On his final voyage he became a member of the household of a Houyhnhnm, a talking horse of great intelligence and wisdom. The honest and upright Houyhnhnms had no word for lying but ruled that Gulliver was a danger to their civilization and expelled him, ruling that he was actually a Yahoo with some semblance of reason; the Yahoos were hideous, deformed, savage humanoids. Returning home, he became a recluse who spent most of his time in his stables among his horses. "Gulliver's Travels," as the book was generally called, was published seven years after Daniel Defoe's "The Life and Strange Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner: Who Lived Eight and Twenty Years All Alone in an Un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, Near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoqui; Having Been Cast on Shore by Shipwreck, Wherein all the Men Perished but Himself;" Gulliver's account may be read as a systematic rebuttal of Defoe's optimistic account of human capability. Jonathan Swift, an Anglican clergyman who served as dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, claimed that the book's author wrote it "to vex the world rather than divert it."

  4. Early modern European maps contained much uncharted territory, across which monsters and other strange, unusual beasts rumble and writhe. They have dragons. However, none of the actual maps labeled the unknown world with such an overt caution as “Hic sunt dracones” -- Here be dragons. But the copper Hunt-Lenox Globe, constructed in 1510, does proclaim just that on the southeast coast of Asia. No dragons are shown near the words, but the globe hides various sea beasts throughout. Earlier maps, such as the 13th-century Ebstorf map, did include illustrations of fanciful animals in unknown lands but without the prose warning. Other maps included "real" animals; for instance, the 1516 Carta Marina Navigatoria Portugallen Navigationes Atque Tocius Cogniti Orbis Terre Maris made by Martin Waldseemüller (the cartographer who christened "America,” on his 1507 Universalis Cosmographia), portrayed near Norway a walrus as an elephantine thing with massive teeth.


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