Oriental Poppies Mini Journal

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On a mid-May morning in my unkempt garden a brilliant burst of red struggled free from fuzzy green confines, like a crumpled chiffon dress out of a tightly packed valise. The creased item flared its skirts flamenco-style, forcing my paints and brushes to pay it homage.

Poppies have a long history—Mesopotamians, ancient Greeks and Egyptians were familiar with its soothing, restorative or euphoric effects. Demeter, goddess of the harvest and seasons, distraught at her daughter Persephone’s abduction, used the poppy to forget her sorrow in sleep.

In the past, the whole plant, fruit and leaves were crushed yielding a substance, Mekonion, less potent than opium. The ancients knew well the potentially fatal and addictive powers of opium. By the 19th century, tincture of opium (laudanum), a popular remedy as easily available as aspirin is today, was a common ingredient in many patent medicines. A small dose would stop children crying, stave off hunger pangs, numb sorrow or pain.

Blood-red corn poppies sprang up from the battlefields of Waterloo and Flanders amidst the disturbed and blood-saturated soil, connecting death with the promise of resurrection.

Poppies can soothe or kill, help us forget or remember, symbolize death or resurrection—what powers in a mere botanical specimen!

artwork and text by Milly Acharya ©2008

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