NEXT TIME I’LL BE A FUNGUS
In my next life I want to be a fungus.
Fungi are more like animals than plants,
Distinctively in a kingdom all their own.
Some form the largest organization on earth*,
But others are microscopic, too tiny to see.
As a fungus I could be almost everywhere:
As spores in the air, in food, on our skin,
And underneath the soil we all walk upon.
As a truffle I’d be a culinary delicacy.
As yeast I would be highly prized for
Making beer and bread, wine and cheese.
As mold I’d be a medicine or a poison.
As a mushroom I’d cause hallucinations,
Or glow in the dark as a bioluminescent,
Or mesh with hyphae* to become mycelium*,
Already in use as a bioconstruction material.
Best of all, I’d be part of the Wood Wide Web*
That vast underground fungal information highway
That allows trees and plants and fungi to interconnect
And to symbolically aid or lethally harm each other.
As a fungus I’d push thinkers to consider more deeply
The astonishingly intimate interdependence of all things.
Nothing on earth is autonomous, able to stand alone.
Nothing exists by itself. Everything connects to everything.
Felix Gagliano March 2021
***I swear, no connection between this poem (or the following) and any money-making scheme (shudder):
*The largest living organism is a fungus! A honey mushroom called Armillaria solidipes in Oregon was found to be over 2,000 years old and growing through the soil in a forest to cover 9 square kilometers (over 1,000 rugby fields).
*The Wood Wide Web: Millions of species of fungi and bacteria swap nutrients between soil and the roots of trees, forming a vast, interconnected web of organisms throughout the woods. It is also called the Mycorrhizal network.
These networks can transport carbon, phosphorus, nitrogen, water, defense compounds, and chemicals from plant to plant. Trees linking to the fungal network can assist their neighbors by sharing nutrients and information, warn about enemies such as insect attack–or sabotage unwelcome plants by spreading toxic chemicals through the network.
For a superb look of the expanding fields of mycology (the study of fungi) see: Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds and Shape Our Futures (Random House, 2020), by British mycologist Merlin Sheldrake.
Sheldrake uses these key terms:
Mycorrhizae: a mutual symbiotic association between a fungus and a tree or plant. The plant makes organic molecules such as sugars by photosynthesis and supplies them to the fungus, and the fungus supplies to the plant water and mineral nutrients, such as phosphorus, taken from the soil.
*Hypha (plural, hyphae): each of the branching filaments that make up the mycelium of a fungus.
*Mycellium: the mass or network of branched, tubular filaments (hyphae) of fungi.
Sheldrake let his book on mushrooms be devoured by mushrooms and then he ate those mushrooms. Thereby eating his own words!
He notes (p.225): “Fungi might make mushrooms, but first they must unmake something else. Now that this book is made I can hand it over to fungi to unmake. I’ll dampen a copy and seed it with Pleurotus mycelium. When it has eaten its way through the words and pages and endpapers and sprouted oyster mushrooms from the covers, I will eat them.”
He mashed up another copy of his book , added a yeast and fermented it into a beer which he then drank, thereby closing the circuit.
Thanks to friend Felix for permission to share his poem and reflections.