Natural History

Translated from Galician by Megan Berkobien

From “Natural History”

“An Apocryphal History of Tulips, or Hallucinations in the Low Countries”

perennials require quite some time to grow. as
for tulips, so
for poisoned arrows plied of yew,
for histories.

contrary to popular belief
—florists included—
tulips are not native to Holland, but to Anatolia instead.

I’ll present this clarification with my hands deep in soil,
silken artillery, useless caution
of an alliance moved from finger to finger
and lost all the same.

perhaps I’ll even whisper to you:
Anatolia comes from the Greek
from Ionian colonnades it signified East
and as the fifteen hundred rooms of the Knossos Palace rose,
the word was welded to ana + tellein, which has come to be
dawn, which has come to be
rising over any horizon

tender western girl,
trust the history of words
for you’ll never be able to trust those of men.

in Ankara or Kayseri
when a child cannot sleep,
an adult, cedar-skinned,
puts his hand on the boy’s chest and tells the story of a ship set out to sea

the hand is powerful: it controls the insomniac’s breath
while recreating a maritime voyage
this way,
the Aegean Sea begins beneath the ribs

and the vessel that’ll bring the first tulips to Northern Europe
leaves a shadow
much denser than the seaweed’s

be careful how you plant them, with their roots face-down, you say

that’s how it went: the Dutch ate the bulbs brought from Turkey, convinced they were onions. they cut them, stewed them, imagine entire families chewing tiny
of future colors
around large tables made of alder wood.

after dinner, they’d have nightmares.

on the flower sack it likewise says, add bone meal or other fertilizer
for the plant’s wellbeing

but we don’t have that here

how could we justify the luxury of absent flesh
the luxury of black earth
for a blossom

in the final days of April
without an official palace gardener
to say, sois sage, ô ma douleur
to an Ottoman pearl

to say, don’t open
not yet
the western lands, for you, are inauspicious

Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose or the Classification of Species”

Bergk says the history of a text is like a long caress.[1]
when Gertrude Stein defied Shakespeare she used almost
the exact same words,[2]
something similiar happens
with the naming of species.

imagine being named for a Jesuit naturalist traveling through the Philippines in 1700
and who doesn’t even take note of you
because the sandalwood trees
or the tarsiers
—that family of small primates with olives for eyes—
manage to distract him,
pulling him by the tail of his cloak with their human-like fingers

several snowfalls later, between the walls of the University of Uppsala,
the prince of the botanists christens you in honor of the man who couldn’t
tell you apart,
while in the far East
they steep your leaves on end
and the oil extracted from your seeds
protects the hair of young girls and the threaded hilts of swords
white tea or black, clean cut or wounded, oxidation
calls an end to all things

we, born tethered to Paris, learning from Dumas to hold a sprig of camellias,
barely fragrant, against our breast,
—to avoid coughing,
to avoid complete convulsion—
afterward we watch over the flowers in bloom
in the abounding constellation of Galician country houses.

like that, the winter blossom is always a shot
and each flower, skull, or amphora,
preamble to a resounding fall,
petals decayed by humidity
when they touch the ground.

that, don’t you forget, will be our prayer:
in the end, oxidation
calls an end to all things.

[1] Anne Carson, in Autobiography of Red

[2] “When I said/ A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose/ And then later made that into a ring I made poetry and what did I do I caressed completely caressed and addressed a noun.”


“It's dark and after you disappear I climb down to the temple.”

I Just Want To See The Sea

“The world has always been broken, and it is exactly because the world is broken that this city is not just my city, nor yours, nor theirs, but is everybody’s image mirrored on the shards.”