The Book of Feral Flora [extract]

Amanda Ackerman

I planted a garden and removed the weeds because they were getting too tall and too abundant. Some were choking my other plants and some smelled of decaying spinach or mint.

Then when summer came I noticed lichens (plants that eat light and nothing more) growing on the trunks of my fruit trees like tiny celestial skeletons. And so I must tell you a tale: the story of a Cyclops and what it means to see with one eye only.

Having one eye only is a gift and a burden, like any unique attribute. There was once a Cyclops with hair made of stringed cottonseed (dyed blue) and a blue eye, with two equally large biceps that contained the strength of ten talking boulders and a vivid yellow building crane. But despite his strength, the cyclops was gentle and kind. He planted and decorated his yard in order to provide himself with the minimal amount of food necessary for his survival. He also wanted to provide a habitat for wildlife. As a homeowner, he was aware of the dangers of invasive, exotic plant species. So far, he had managed to remove them, until one day the air potato, with its bending, heart-shaped lobes, shade-worthy stems, and bobbed white flowers, moved in and began to quickly engulf the native vegetation. It treated everything like a trellis. The columns on the porch, the high canopies of trees, the shovels in the yard, even the Cyclops’ sandals. But being one-eyed, he wanted his garden to look as beautiful as could be. He wanted the functions of his natural community to stay intact. So what do you think he did? Or rather, what would you have done if you had been in his place?

I will happily tell you that I did not rid my garden of all the weeds. I discovered that some were, in fact, edible (purslane, lambs quarters). I should clarify; my garden was on land and not in the sea. Weeds in the sea are often edible, but some are not. For example:

Once there was a restaurant owner who had the reputation of putting too much salt into his food, even his cakes and his crudités. This was because he preferred seasoning everything with plain seawater. His fatal mistake was that he did not realize he needed to harvest the sea, to separate the off-white flecks of salt (he thought they looked like small gratings of ginger), and dry them. Because there is a lot of stuff in the ocean that we do not want to consume. Especially now. A lot of fearful content.

Of course, there are some grey areas. Here are some beginning points of clarification: a rose is not a weed; gratitude is not a weed, a wheel is not a weed; my sister is currently a weed; encouragement is and is sometimes not a weed; a subordinate is a weed; an anchor is not a weed; an opportunity is and is sometimes not a weed; beauty is not a weed; a de rigueur arrangement or setting is a weed; a rule is a weed; and so on. You will soon become an expert at knowing the difference.

It is also important to know that planting is not the opposite of weeding. The opposite of weeding is re-remembering.

Re-remembering, in other words, is the feeling of waking up and re-remembering what you tried to forget when you went to sleep. This could be a wide range of ideas or sensations. For example, you might try to forget that you do not have freedom in your life and relationships. Or you might try to forget a disturbing workplace incident. Or you might try to forget that you forgot to purchase something crucial at the supermarket. Re-remembering is usually unpleasant. There is danger all around.

And if you continue to re-remember daily, either upon waking up in the morning or after a nap, real life starts to feel jagged. The diligent work of honesty begins to look painful – and therefore, in some respects, undesirable. The diligent voice of honesty begins to sound like a sub-voice, shattering your other voices without allowing for your inadmissible human sounds, such as non-playful or non-therapeutic howling. A problematic situation. When you re-remember, you are tired of being right all the time. You are tired of being right all the time. You are tired of having insights you will never be able to make anyone else understand. You are tired of this feeling. You are tired of being right all the time. If you are reluctant to wake up or wake up too suddenly, jarring the back, ignoring the windows in the room, small and grim and darkly solid in the bed, you have re-remembered. Re-remembering is the opposite of weeding. But it is not to be confused with planting. Re-remembering can also occasionally be pleasant, but is still not to be confused with planting.

Before I planted my garden, I cleared away sections of garden patches where nothing was capable of growing. I will ask you to do the same when you first begin. Then you will need to figure out how to next solve this problem so that plants may begin to “reach” into the empty space. Weeds will always be the first plants to sprout. The goal is to allow the area to fully support desirable growth.

What I really want to say is, I don’t trust myself to know what to kill and what to keep alive, and I don’t think I trust anyone else either.

When the power of life or death is in woman, is in man, how is it different?

What I really want to say is, why have we been granted this power to begin with?

What I really want to say is, have you noticed how plants and gardens are extremely sentient?

What I really want to say is:

And if the stones and weeds and oceans in your stomach all die, send apple-scented death announcements to all your friends.


Amanda AckermanThis is a lightly edited extract from Amanda Ackerman, The Book of Feral Flora (2015).

Republished here with kind permission from the publishers, Les Figues Press.


Image credit: Marloe Mens.

This is part of The Learned Pig’s Tuin Stemmen (Garden Voices) editorial season, autumn-winter 2018/19. Guest editor: Marloe Mens.


The Learned Pig


Amanda Ackerman

Ackerman Ackerman is essence practitioner, writer, and teacher living in Los Angeles. Her work blurs the lines between poetry, narrative, and prose.She is the author of The Book of Feral Flora (2015) as well as several chapbooks, including The Seasons Cemented (2010), the scented pamphlet Air-Kissing (2017), I Fell in Love with a Monster Truck (2011), and Short Stones (2012).