Soar with me, gentle reader, to the heights
Of Mount Olympus, seat of heavenly bliss,
Where bright-eyed Paeon is apprenticed to
Asclepius the wizened herbalist.
When Heracles’s arrow finds its home
Among the raging veins of Hades’ neck,
Young Paeon plucks th’intruder from its nest
And stems the blood with ginger turmeric.
If artful Diomedes’ singing sword
Should pierce the golden abdomen of Mars
Tis Paeon’s agile hands will heal the rift
with fennel juice and hippocratic calm.
Within the crystal mansion on the mount
Young Paeon salves each wounded titan pride,
Whilst in the shadows old Asclepius
Is not so much green-fingered as green-eyed.
One moonlit night young Paeon stays up late,
To top and tail sweet chamomile roots,
The oak door groans, the artful intern frowns –
There in the doorway stands the bride of Zeus!
Mysterious Leto goddess of the moon
With burnished diadem and silken hair
Cries ‘Hail Paeon, healer of the gods,
Olympian gold in tender loving care!
I’ve watched you gather poppy seeds and dill
and squeeze the flesh of orange bergamot
I’ve seen your ferox resin sleeping pill
and inhalation of forgetmenot,
Yet there is still one secret which evades
Your flowering encyclopedic mind
One fertile shrub which unbeknown to you
Can dull the pain of labouring womankind.
Below the crest of this Elysian Mount
Among the emerald fields of Spileos,
A flower in a crinkly velvet gown,
Lies blushing pink atop a bed of moss.
Within the textured folds of its embrace
Flow limpid springs of blissful pain-relief
More mellowing than any lotus fruit,
More potent than a eucalyptus leaf.
Pluck its petals, pulverize, infuse,
Then rally the midwives of labouring Greece,
Let Hermes wing his sandals with the news:
“Tears in childbirth evermore shall cease!”’
Up starts the youthful healer of the gods
And breaks into a Myrmidinian run
Like hope unfettered from Pandora’s box
Fleet-footed in the rosy-fingered dawn
On Mount Olympus Paeon’s footsteps flow
Past purple debutante and wild sage,
Spring gentiana – queen of alpine plants –
Pale lilacbush and silver saxifrage.
Through prostrate speedwell Paeon carves a way,
Heeds not the colonies of coralroot
Nor jankaea rosettes of felted grey
Nor tiger orchids trampled underfoot.
To wintergreen and Greek fritillary
Swift Paeon does not give the time of day
But reaching Spileos, Beauty stops him short
A bough of French lime blossom bars his way.
Prodigious Paeon shuts his eyes and breathes
That subtly tantalizing citric smell
whose loveliness is vividly inferred
from memories of Loveliness herself.
And where else must his anaesthetic grow
But in the shadows of this sensuous tree.
The herbalist entreats the silken-haired
High queen of all things hidden, ‘Help me see!’
Delight comes on his heart, and looking down
Asclepius’s apprentice comes across
Ten flowers wearing crinkly velvet gowns
And blushing pink atop their beds of moss.
Young Paeon plucks a bloom and holds it high:
‘I name this veiled treasure Paeony,
I dedicate it to the bride of Zeus,
To motherhood and femininity!’

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