Photo by Daniel Norin

Dandelions

“The Dandelion’s pallid tube / Astonishes the Grass . . .” —Emily Dickinson

WHEN THE LAST snowmelt runs down the street and spring peepers have their song, I know the promise of warmth on my skin presses near. Stars! In the grass! my son used to point and say when he toddled about our lawn, which my husband and I took as both an indictment and a delight.

As new homeowners early in our marriage, I obsessed over making our yard dandelion-free. Every dandelion clock, or white blowball about to burst and blow into the wind, was a guilt-inducing sign that I hadn’t caught them when I scoured our yard on my hands and knees days earlier, looking to pop them at the root. What kind of a homemaker would I be if our lawn weren’t trimmed and verdant, no blight spots, and especially no yellow constellations dotting our yard?

That toddler is now a tall and lanky teen with a beautiful head of curly-wild hair. We still pick the blowballs ever so carefully so as not to disturb the seeds—the achenes—with their pappi, tiny old man hairs parachuting across the yard. But I’ve relaxed a bit about lawn care. Hummingbirds, bees, and monarchs are my priority now. Here in northern Mississippi, I’ve come to appreciate the extra bits of color in my lawn, knowing my dog and kids can roll and kick around in the grass, pesticide-free.

And oh, of course the wishes! So many since I was a little girl have come true. Hold a dandie bloom under your chin, and if your skin reflects the yellow, that means your crush is thinking of you. In some circles it just means you love butter.

Best of all—I’ve come to see so much deliciousness to be had from dandelions. There is tea to be made, and wine and coffee too! Make sure you pluck the kind with tubular stems (not the solid, furry stalks) and soak the blooms in salted water to get rid of any tiny ants lurking. If you find enough yellow florets—four cups of packed petals, to be exact—you can make a jelly that rings a sweetness in your mouth a little like fresh honey. If you can only gather up eighty or so, dip them in an egg/flour/salt/pepper mix and fry them in hot oil. Dust them with a touch of paprika and cayenne and you have yourself a fine, fragrant, crunchy snack.

Dandelions openbloom their faces under the sun and fold like an umbrella at night. My son is far from the only one who called them stars here on Earth. In her poem “A Dandelion for My Mother,” Jean Nordhaus writes, “. . . slowly they turned themselves / into galaxies, domes of ghost stars / barely visible by day, pale / cerebrums clinging to life / on tough green stems.”

How many millions of school kids have held up one of those tough green stems as a game to see a little yellow on their chin? Have you? After a year of so much loss, I’m looking forward to dandelions arriving as a win.

 

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Aimee Nezhukumatathil is the author of the New York Times best-selling illustrated collection of nature essays and Kirkus Prize finalist, WORLD OF WONDERS: IN PRAISE OF FIREFLIES, WHALE SHARKS, & OTHER ASTONISHMENTS (2020, Milkweed Editions), which was chosen as Barnes and Noble’s Book of the Year. She has four previous poetry collections: OCEANIC (Copper Canyon Press, 2018), LUCKY FISH (2011), AT THE DRIVE-IN VOLCANO (2007), and MIRACLE FRUIT (2003), the last three from Tupelo Press. Her most recent chapbook is LACE & PYRITE, a collaboration of epistolary garden poems with the poet Ross Gay. Her writing appears twice in the Best American Poetry Series, The New York Times Magazine, ESPNPloughshares, American Poetry Review, and Tin House. Honors include a poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Pushcart Prize, a Mississippi Arts Council grant, and being named a Guggenheim Fellow in poetry. In 2021, she became the first-ever poetry editor for SIERRA magazine, the story-telling arm of The Sierra Club. She is professor of English and Creative Writing in the University of Mississippi’s MFA program.

Comments

  1. Thanks for an up close and personal view of an everyday little bit of magic. Or weed. It depends on how you look at it I suppose.

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