Jami Kimbrell : Milkweed : Flash : August 2019

Southern Legitimacy Statement: I am one of the 54 grandchildren of Mila and Esther and our enormous family’s Christmas Eve tradition was having bottle rocket wars against each other across a field of corn while our parents (all 22 of them) prepped the massive amounts of fried chicken, field peas, assorted casseroles, deviled eggs, and tater salads we would consume after the war outside ended and after a long and beautiful sermon of a blessing was said by one or maybe two of the uncles/preachers on hand for the big night.

My hometown of Bonifay, Florida sits in the Panhandle just below the Alabama state line and is home to an annual rodeo and all-night gospel sing. All my childhood pets were strays. Maybe I should have started with that.


As it turns out, not everything in nature is edible.  Not everything can be boiled down into a jam or jelly or broth or paste.  I picked a purple-petaled honeysuckle lookalike yesterday from the side of the road, from a bush nestled among pine tree saplings planted by the city next to the park which is next to the water treatment plant which is next to the elementary school my kids attend.  The flower smells like weed, like I could smoke it through a cored apple without garnering attention much less, suspicion.  But you can’t smoke this plant either.  I researched it, like I research all of the green things growing in my neighborhood.  

I tell my daughter that berries can kill you if you eat the wrong ones, that some leaves can pull water from deep inside the body, through the surface of the skin until your legs and arms are covered in blisters.  As it turns out, the pit inside of a cherry converts to cyanide when digested, yet what number of swallowed cherry pits would kill me remains a mystery.  It’s different for cats and goats and rabbits though.  A begonia or iris is enough to do them in, but not the butterflies.  As it turns out, not the butterflies.