Lament of the Cactus

"Give up thy thorns,"
the great genius Burbank said.
"In the potted world
we've made for you,
you won't need them."

And the cactus surely knew
that what the seed-man said
was true, eschewed
its genetic predisposition
to be prickly.

A triumph for botanical science,
all agreed,
when they spied the spineless breed,
a cactus no more barbed
than a banana.

Yet this mellow prodigy
was a hollow victory, for without its spikes
the vegetable turned sickly,
a flaccid stump where angels
once feared to tread.

The swordsman of the desert was half dead.
The other half was weak about the head.
Which only goes to show what every cactus knows—
that the spice of life is all
that makes life prickly.

by Richard Schiffman

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Richard Schiffman is an environmental journalist, poet, and author of two biographies. His poems have been published in Southern Poetry Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, New Ohio Review, The Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times, and many other publications. His poetry book, What the Dust Doesn't Know, is forthcoming from Salmon Press.