The Story of the Letter H

Erina Harris

Erina Harris is a Canadian author, scholar and Creative Writing Instructor. Her hybrid writings have been published and awarded internationally. She is a graduate and Fellow of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and recently completed a Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Poetics and Pedagogy at the University of Alberta (SSHRC). Her first poetry collection, The Stag Head Spoke was short-listed for the Canadian Authors’ Association Poetry Award (2015). This work is an excerpt from the completed manuscript Persephone’s Abecedarium: An Alphabet Play (An Ecopoetical Adaptation of the Homeric “Hymn to Demeter”), publication date TBA. In 2021, she is honoured to serve as Curator for the social poetics project entitled “The Foster Words Project”; please visit <> for your invitation to participate.

HISTORIA PLANTARUM: Hecate Prepares Instructions for Demeter and Kore in Hell

A Metaphysics, Part One:

Notes on Anatomy, Conception, Reproduction, and The Daughter”


This poem is an excerpt from the experimental poetry manuscript Persephone’s Abecedarium: An Alphabet Play (An Ecopoetical Adaptation of the Homeric “Hymn to Demeter”), now being edited for publication (date TBA due to Covid, estimated birthdate 2022-2023).

This adaptation considers the “Hymn to Demeter” as a proto-feminist poem in which its anonymous and possibly female author deployed poetic language to model a species of relationality counter to the rising patriarchy, misogyny and anthropocentrism of her time. Her poem, already an adaptation/bricolage of an oral tale modelled radically interconnected relationships between humans and ecological others such as plants, animals and things.

In the “Hymn,” the deity Hecate is the first to inform Demeter (Goddess of Harvest) of Kore’s (Demeter’s daughter) departure and abduction into the Underworld by her uncle Hades, Keeper of The Dead (Kore, later named Persephone, Goddess of Grain). Hecate informs Demeter of their immanent separation and (symbolically, psychoanalytically) individuation.

Hecate was a liminal goddess of crossroads, and a keeper of plant lore (especially plants’ healing, poisonous, and metaphysical properties. The Historia Plantarum or Enquiry Into Plants by Theophrastus (somewhere between 350 and 287 BCE) is considered to be the first telling of how plants reproduce. It included detailed studies of plant anatomy, individuation, and classifications. Patricia Vieira and Michael Marder report that “Aristotle’s student Theophrastus was excluded from the Western canon for the painstaking botanical researches he undertook” (Writing Phytophilia: Philosophers and Poets as Lovers of Plants).

This is Hecate’s later, unpublished version.

This poem engages the research of Monica Gagliano and Marva Grimonprez who consider language broadly as a form of ecological culture. They observe that plants breathe transmissions by sending out a chemical language made up of scented words within their specific, social settings. They establish that plant utterances are both more meaningful as well as more effectively received among kin. Inspiringly, they consider plant communities in terms of possibilities that have been widely overlooked by Western anthropocentrisms such as intelligence, agency and inter-subjectivity.

This manuscript engages a constraint-based lexicon consisting of actual sounds, words and language forms transcribed from monologues and conversations with English-speaking infants and children, from birth to the age of 42 months of age: an epic era of life in which children enter language and/as subjectivity. This experiment borrows from these poetic and anarchic language forms in search of what early articulations of the evolving self or ‘I’ might tell us about possibility: what other linguistic conceptions of selfhood beyond highly individualistic Cartesian subjectivity are possible in terms of increasingly compassionate relations?

I propose, herein, that infants’ and children’s language of formation, full of poiesis, errors, resistance and language-play indeed models new linguistic formulations of “ecological” subjectivity.


How to draw the letter H:

Three strokes

of a crayon

cross oblivion –

The Tree. The Drawbridge. The Flower.


To draw The Tree:

In any place in space and from there, down. A line straight, spining –

from stratosphere or forehead, then descend

to somewhere low her hip, her paper skyline.

To stop at troposphere

where the soil’s soiled knee.


This is The Tree.

In it lives the little Laboratory of the Little

within it, The Littlest

cell too tiny to.


Her tiniest cell,

smaller than a doll’s doll’s doll.             “Here, I shall host a ball!”


Until a guest dressed best enters                          A room is just a cell

until and when and he – and makes it a party!

And enters her,

and then a room and she and he             Are we.

And doubling, in his image her reflection in his eyes. Makes her two! makes him a dollhouse.


The butler blasts the trumpet blastodermic

in a cell

in a cell

and in a room is one and two; are we

Are a making      are a party,      “Hear mere blastomeres!”     he trumpets.

Until, arriving, more – more guests is best.


A room within herself – and doubling in the company of the guest.

Amorous, amoral, Morula: she conceives

of guests and rooms –

“More rooms!”    “More we!”

And carrying a tray of canapés she strops and trophoblasts about.

That guests might fuse themselves in chatter

of some matter,

or: “A game!”

To play in ones and twos, she sings,

of meetings, gametes singing, gameful. Syngamy –

the singing rooms do buckle, swell, self-echo, and self-

double in their cupboards, replicate to placate:   “Make more rooms!”

The singing.


The singing, surging, and divergent, differing, invited:

“To the syncytium!”


Holding hands, the guests

move along longitudinal ridges.

The guests are building something.


down a hall along a bannister: to unwrap all the presents,

ribboned, rudiment, a system, tubes and vesicles, a swirling guest in

pinafore and fore brain, to present presents crescentic en masse masses.

In pairs! Pericardial, uncloak a cloacal membrane in the cloak room;

enter. And there, pass her a tissue where tissue resists,

blocks differentiate to skeletal muscle, not a tussle but a two-step:

vertebrae and dermis, somites might or ribs, top hats

and masses cubical, alas.     At the podium:

the head, there blossom spindle-shaped cells, spinning.

The organs pinking ring out for the choir. The choir is learning

ectoderm of chorion, in the great room, song-room, a cavity

amniotic. The conductor is her uncle. Uncle peduncle

conducts a band of neurons, their embloused

flock resembles a stalk, singing, singing “Bouquet!”

for the hostess.


In the laboratory,

in the Tower,

in the Tower,

in the Tree

there sits the mother in the Milking Room.

Wearing her seed crown, she coddles the cotyledon,

dresses her in a little seed coat,

embroidered from her own body,

grown, a gown from ovule or integument.

With intent. A caress is meant

to tend the hilum-scar taped

to the stalk to which was pinned

the seed to the navel-like carbuncle,

the caruncle. Tousle the plume,

a pliez from her plumule.

And singly, in monocot seeds,

a monocle.

In the Milking Room the mother towers –

her roots swell vertebrate in soil, ankling, tentacular.

She grows herself

extra arms for her daughter

octopus or spider.

Each hair an ear waves,

cordial and plancking.

In burlap lap her sugar-waters. Bound in gauze, she coddles, embryonic –

a swaddling.

Lub-dub, lub-dub, iambic thumper.



“Is the mother-foot also:

the clubfoot, root in a water, water part air and part rabbit’s foot past,

and part past, downstream, and a tendril extending from bowels of flowers sharing pistil-time to place all the flammable names touching with your

forehead alit in a sunlit gristle-parlour?”

“Yes, in part.”


To draw the Drawbridge:

From the window

of the laboratory, from midriff

from within a rip in mind.

Draw a line horizoning–

A passageway

in which hemorrhage buds cinch growing tiny hairs,


The guard hairs gorging at the opening.

From midriff. ingrows this trapeze, a cord:

and goes through her,

bridging brainstem, her radicle a portal where her baby root and will depart

shoot outwards epic epicotyl from her tiny cot become transition zone between

root and shoot, and rooting downwards invisible beneath the Tower to forever outwards.

A cord for the trapeze, for:

The little duchess against weather fists her seedling outwards in a violate-veined wide-mouth jar.

Cleaving animal pole, vegetal pole toward and diverging.


From the trapeze or rootling bridge or cording bridge, Bridge of the Child –

from its last planck rhizomatic, precipice or strand


How to draw The Flower:


Tie the trapeze to her belly;

trace it:

down to downwards where she hides her roots under the bed with all her toys.

And again, from mid-stalk, upwards, trace towards –

her spire spinning at the top a cup

a turnstile, weathervane or chalice,

is a headdress or receptacle to which

her head will be attached;

Or if she is many-headed, inflorescence:

“Are so many of us!”

Her uncle, peduncle

will he cup her tiny head and head and head.


Floreate, her mouth fills with organs singing, ringing with: a style and carpels, and her pistil will evolve to enclose ovules cherubic and beloved –

Vowelling, the flower yowls.

And queenly, her corolla pronounces petals within green calyx

or sepals

(When an ovule grows up she will be a seed).

and tilting her slightly toward mother-scent.


Scentwards, or, slender in her filament, she unfolds, upholds the anther and its antlers, hers.

A stamen, radio and weathervane is lending pollen dusts the linens.


(When an ovule grows up she will be a seed)

dressed best in her little seed coat

and tended).

In her little coat pocket

sewn in: a baby root, impressed, or a photograph

and smelling

(Remembering the Tree or the Flower who was she will be)


How to draw the letter I.

Sever it:

the cord


the Tree


the Flower.               Hold her apart from her. By the rootlings, draw the

                                daughter from the mother-waters. Apart: and makes

                                of mother-body a weathervane can always tell.


“There will be a memory between us.”


Letter I:

And swell, grotesque, resonant, a socket –

Conscious-flower, bloating,


Shivering and rare in her new edges motherless, and daughtered in their agape

Between, and anti-homewards time blooms there. And pretty globules slowly form upon

the queen’s pink gorge:



“There will be a memory between us, and ringing: backwards and forwards and around the other side.”


“There I pass through her.”


Letter I:

“Where my looking looks for her and my looking back reflects, upon her, surface,

upon her I become image, with her     and imagined

within interruption.

I attend, an utterance.”



Within interruption –


Said the Flower to the Tree:

Who are we,

mother? Mother?”

Pour citer cette page

Erina Harris, « The Story of the Letter H », MuseMedusa, no 9, 2021, <> (Page consultée le ).

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