Ode to the Artichoke

The artichoke, stand-offish, over-clad,
is bristling, sealed and taut.
Only the fiercest hunger could have brought
its early fanciers to tunnel out
the tender heart from under all that coat
of thistle, scale and spike.

Neruda rumoured that it hoped
to join a plant militia.
For other aficionados it evokes
not martial, but lascivious images
as they peel off its green veils, one by one.
Not soldier-boy, but stripper.

(Hear Merrie Andrew Borde who warned
that artichokes, like onions, ‘provoke
a man to venéryous actes’.
The voice of hard experience. Unfrocked,
he ran a brothel on the side
while writing Tudor Baedekers.)

Eating the artichoke is always quite
a performance. Bract after leathery bract discarded
down to the bunny-fluff of the choke
(all spit and feathers if you get it wrong)
on your lingering, deliberate way
to its finally unguarded heart.

Zeus was as keyed up as they come
in his wooing in the Peloponnese
of Cynara whom he wished to gormandize.
Would she become a goddess please? Oh yes.
But when she flounced off, bored, back home,
he zipped her tightly in an artichoke.

And what should Norma Jeane become,
in 1949 in Monterey,
but ‘Queen of Artichokes’?
A future goddess she who, faced with any god,
would never hesitate it seems to shed
all of her covering.

– David Morphet 2007