Three Poems About Plants That Eat People

Scott Cunningham



[Ya Te Veo]

The Ya-te-veo (‘Now-I-see-you’) plant is said to catch and consume large insects, but also attempts to consume humans.
               J.W. Buel, SEA & LAND (1887)

Beside the road, a tree. Someone passes,
gets eaten. Another passes and is
eaten, too. Another stops to take a nap
beneath the leaves and gets robbed
and beaten by thieves. Before
he leaves, he picks a piece of fruit.

By choosing who to eat, the tree
stays hidden. There it is in many paintings—
wind-fed, sunlight breaking inside of it;
in the distance, a ship or two, some birds.
At first the tree was gnarled and covered
in thorns. Over time it learned

that to be beautiful means to be
unnecessarily trusted, and the stranger
the story, the more it’s believed
by those with axes and torches. It burned
slowly until the wind picked up
and scattered the seeds.


[“Man Disappears Into Flower”]

I never saw it. I saw the sound of it.
A piece of fruit slipping into
a shopping bag. Champagne poured
from one flute to another. It formed

like a cloud taking on a shape.
It was an envelope
opening, the carcass of the car’s frame
heeling after the tires have dug in.

We never found the body. We kept finding
evidence of the body, a sleeping bag
rolled up like a question mark,
a statement to the police.

It wasn’t long before we didn’t believe
anything that had to do with him.
Hair color. Hometown.
All we had was the sound

of description, the flat plate of the newspaper,
our words read back to us.
“Where he fell there was a giant flower
closing its petals…” beside a picture

of the flower, hacked open,
bulb empty, a puddle beneath it
one deputy describes as “sugary.”
It was a mystery we were placed inside

and we became mysterious.
It was difficult to lift
a water glass without feeling
the weight of it.


[The Tree That Feeds on Sins]

               who’s to say what’s grace
               & what’s cruelty
               Rio Cortez

Once a year, when the flowers bloom
and burn like candles in the evening,
when the tide brings back pieces
of the homes we lost to ruin

we push them, one by one, into
The Tree That Feeds on Sins.
We aren’t proud of what we do.
The world’s pain is not mysterious.

Each of us owns a portion
on the skin and underneath.
To those who carry more than
can be borne, we give the Tree.

Some scream, “Our mother!”
Others link hands and go together
like a bride and groom into
the narrow, sun-starved alter.

We aren’t proud of what we do.
She tears the knives out by their handles,
rips the memories from their reels
and melts the metal spools.

Little known fact: they volunteer.
They line up with their broken limbs
and solemn faces, and solemnly, we grace them.
We aren’t proud of what we do.  

P. Scott Cunningham is the author of Ya Te Veo (University of Arkansas Press, 2018). His poems, essays, and translations have appeared in Harvard Review, The Awl, A Public Space, RHINO, Los Angeles Review of Books, Tupelo Quarterly, Monocle, and The Guardian, among others. He lives in Miami, Florida, where he serves as the director of O, Miami and the executive editor of Jai-Alai Books.