by Heather McHugh
Belle Randall has lived in Seattle for decades—and never been celebrated enough. Her gifts of literary craft are extraordinary—lively range, exquisite touch. In "Sinsemilla" she manages in grand old form to treat a topic of moment today—and also allude to the love poems of one of the masters of English literature, Andrew Marvell. Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress" supplies Randall with the phrase "my vegetable love" (to a 17th-century mind, "vegetable" would suggest "herbal"). In contemporary California, shades will turn to sunglasses—but the phrase "green thought in a green shade" comes from Marvell's fabled poem "The Garden":
Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less,
Withdraws into its happiness...
Annihilating all that's made
To a green thought in a green shade...
Such was that happy garden-state,
While man there walk'd without a mate...
Two paradises 'twere in one
To live in paradise alone.
Randall's is a special twist on Marvell—for it is from the woman poet's standpoint. Bathsheba is fabled for having been impregnated by King David, and the Virgin Mary (her name here slightly cannabicized to Mari) is fabled, of course, for having been impregnated by God. They supply Randall with ironic erotic antecedents for her own "female thwarted in desire."
The Golden State makes its contribution to this lineage of seductions, as Modesto's celestial virtues are tested by the seductions of the pot farm's high-charged female plants. "In heat" seems as hormonal as meteorological, and the etymology of the word inspiration, of course, gives us "breathe in"—what Clinton said he didn't do. Luckily, Belle Randall tells the truth: She loves a good old air, and sings it here anew.
by Belle Randall
The finest marijuana, as everybody knows,
is the female thwarted in desire:
sinsemilla, separated from
the male flower, daily grows
More dense and more desirable.
In heat, in heat, in heat,
a blue haze hangs above the valley
like smoke above a cigarette.
All afternoon I've walked beneath
green boughs where sticky resin buds
perfumed and nappy as Bathsheba's hair
nestle and nudge the blue Modesto sky,
Myself a female thwarted, as I feel
everybody knows; all afternoon
I've walked chapter, verse, and rows,
and all around me grows this slow
Vegetable love, a green shade
the color of dark glasses, Virgin Mari
of a friend's homegrown plantation,
the poet knows—to inhale is inspiration.