“Botany.” A Poem by Tony Hoagland

From the New Collection Turn Up the Ocean

July 13, 2022  By Tony Hoagland

When we met, I pretended to know a lot about botany,
and I called the trees palmettos and the flowers spiderwort
though I have no idea what spiderwort looks like
or even if such a thing really exists.

When I told you that a new species
has just been named after the Bee Gees,
I could sense that you were kind of interested,

so I kept making up other celebrity orchids,
like the Joan Baez and the Pink Floyd,
the Mahalia Jackson and the Al Green.

I have always loved the way that words
themselves have shape and color,
crimson tassels and dark-green fans
to catch the sun and rain,

and when I pick the words out as I speak,
sometimes I feel like I am making
a bouquet for you, arranging them in
a little turquoise vase for presentation.

That is why, in the name of honesty, I want to tell you
it is not true that Montreal roses
were my mother’s favorite flower.
I don’t know why I said that, it just flew out of my mouth,

but I hope you will still come over
to my apartment on the weekend,
so I can show you the spatula plants in my backyard
and maybe the leopard ferns in their shimmery autumn blossom.

If not, I am afraid that I will spend my life
alone, with nothing but these words,
touching them restlessly over and over,
bored and despairing

since it seems that I have loved them—
I mean the words—
better and more honestly
than I have ever loved a person.


Turn Up the Ocean

“Botany” from Turn Up the Ocean. Copyright © 2022 by the Estate of Tony Hoagland. Used with the permission of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org

Tony Hoagland
Tony Hoagland
Tony Hoagland (1953—2018) was the award-winning author of seven poetry collections, including the National Book Critics Circle Finalist What Narcissism Means to Me and Priest Turned Therapist Treats Fear of God, and two essay collections. He taught at the University of Houston and conducted a community workshop in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he lived.

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