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Useful Verses for Distinguishing Cow Parsley from
Poison Hemlock


Cow parsley is of child height
     and hemlock is a giant.
Above the barley, wheat and corn
     hemlock stands defiant.

cow parsley stalks have a groove like the groove
in a stick of celery where the peanut butter goes.
Hemlock has a smooth hollow stem like a straw
through which if you drink you die.

Hemlock from cow parsley
     the blind man better tells.
Impossible to know by sight
     the difference in smell.

Green cow parsley seeds look like a supreme court
of alien slugs in tiny horsehair wigs.
Green hemlock seeds look like a handful of jacks
in the fist of an invisible boy.

The stem of poison hemlock
     is like a drunkard's skin:
purple blotches advertise
     toxicity within.

Dry cow parsley seeds are black cloven hooves, tapered
elegantly like those of sacred cows in Hindu frescos.
Dry hemlock seeds are Chinese sky lanterns crowding
the air above the funeral of one who ate hemlock seeds.

Cow parsley is a bitter herb
     and hemlock it is sweet.
The taste of one will bother none
     if he the other eats.

Cow parsley is the desire to restore to verse
something of its original mnemonic function.
Hemlock is a distracting preoccupation
with artifice and ornament.

Cow parsley is of crochet made
     and hemlock is of lace
but a dead man won't know wool from silk
     as it's pulled across his face.


Richard Osmond

Useful Verses
Picador


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