Truth and Dare
To tease out if strange cherries on your path
are safe to consume, the teachers suggest
slicing one in half and pressing the wound
against the tip of your tongue.
If your flesh feels heat,
you must leave the fruit alone.
Across the centuries, Russians have buried
cucumbers inside barrels of salt
sometimes with fistfuls of cherry leaves
while on the stove, treasure is stewed
until it’s close to falling apart,
soft and sweet enough to be spooned
into tea and placebos. All through my life
truth has often shown up as a poison
stinging my eyes like salt-polluted rain
or spiking out as a flower so ugly
songbirds won’t flutter near it.
Young George didn’t chop down the tree
but killed it nonetheless with his scraping
and why do we never hear of how
that stupid hatchet also took out
the poles holding up his mother’s peas
some exhausted field hand then had to fetch
and fix or replace, hunting for branches
sure and long enough to serve? But see
how in the parson’s fable
truth is so much stranger than destruction
and within our own damaged groves
how many thousand grains of salt
we’ve hurled at baseless claims
and lies stumping on. Half a globe away
a man rolls salt and stupendously sour
truths along and off his tongue like jokes
even as hatchet-men seek to take him down.
by Peg Duthie
Editor’s Note: This poem’s allegory is breathtaking.