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.
“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