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Four O'Clocks

Fall 2010 - Vol. 52, No. 4

Such charming names: what would Linnaeus think,
taxonomist supreme?—Anemone,
pure Greek, might pass, but what of knotweed, pink,
jack-in-the-pulpit, bleeding heart, sweet pea,

or black-eyed Susan, harebells, trumpet vine,
snapdragon, bachelor’s button, hollyhocks,
sweet William, Indian blanket, columbine,
broom, wolfbane, buttercups, and four o’clocks?

This homeliness of nomenclature trumps,
in memory, at least, the learnèd terms—
as gardeners attend to compost, clumps
of sod, brick borders, weeds, manure, and worms

(the ground and company of floral art),
referring loveliness to other days,
and leaving Latin, as the finer part,
to botanists. The ordinary ways

suffice to bear and honor sentiment—
an average wine, an inexpensive glass,
their poetry concealed in the intent.
Thus I remember pungent scents of grass,

and four o’clocks, plebeian plants, beside
the house, half-wild. My father was not well,
but often watered them—a point of pride,
perhaps, for fortune’s hostage; one could tell

how afternoon was waning when the furled
buds opened into little parasols,
quick to display their mauve or rose-hued world
and quick to drop and die. Such fate befalls

whole gardens, gone, with their quotidian
familiars—foxglove, larkspur, baby’s breath—
a destiny decreed under the sun
to erudite and plain, by mors and death.