By Peter Halstead

Whatever tendril, bract, or leaf
The sun or clippers labor
To place in insolent relief
Against its cringing neighbor;

Whatever curling fruit or stalk
Is accidentally shaded,
No amount of paucity or bulk
Can be pruned or traded

In exchange for birds of paradise,
Which flame and flower
Randomly as dice
In out exalted bower:

Like birds, they seem
To rise without a trace
Of stratagem or scheme
In the least expected place,

Like hummingbirds who vector
Between the waving plants,
Their quest for godlike nectar
Coiled in human chance,

Deities whose spiral grace is
Deep inside their DNA,
Their idea of perfect places
Too sub rosa to display.

December 23rd, 2002
Redone August 16th, 2003


A heliconia plant can’t be predicted. It selects random bracts for glorification. No amount of sun, shade, pruning, or other tricks of the trade can single out which fork will result in a bud. The plant may know, deep down inside, but no visible analysis can reveal its secrets.
I thought it was quite interesting that the leaves and flowers of a Bird of Paradise loosely copy the spiral helix shape of DNA. A heliconia is both helix and cone. Maybe it was a template for the arbitrary forces that shape our supposedly more developed organisms. Or maybe those forces are just too deep to show. Nature doesn’t necessarily want to tell the laity its love (to borrow from Donne), or expose itself to comment on the platform, as Lady Bracknell feared.
I was thinking about another of my poems, “Rockbound,” which supposes chaos to be genius in disguise, and the heliconia came to mind as an example, so this poem originated from the explanation to another poem.

December 23, 2002, 2:32–3:21 pm
Redone August 16, 2003, 8:45–11:03 am