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On First Looking into Chapman's Flora

A. W. Chapman, Flora of the Southern United States, 1860


Little have I traveled in the realm of dirt.
So the cypress has knees with which to breathe?
Sweet-gum, what good your Latin name
I say, who barely remember your common one.

Vine taking back the front flower bed,
in the time it took me to open the book,
you sent a tendril over the porch rail,
over my shoulder, to turn the page.

Foxed, dog-eared, torn and taped,
re-bound in red buckram—
Dr. Chapman, a Northern transplant,
would have loved this much-loved copy.

Someone, having slogged his way
to page 184, despaired of identifying a leaf—
long since lost—and pressed it there, instead,
where only a tannic stain remains.

I felt like some watcher of the dirt
who missed the daintiest of depressions,
the faint impress of a hobnail boot.
Tell me, are there still cushions

lying low in the box pew of the oldest church
in Apalachicola? The doctor wanted comfort
the nights he hid from men in gray
searching the dark for supplies.

Slave keeping watch over his store
of arsenic and chloroform, he slept,
Northerner wanted by a South
whose wounds he didn't care to bind.

By day, he prescribed nothing
stronger than bread pills and hot baths.
After Appomattox, he preferred
his company to be green, any green,

toothed or lobed, he wasn't particular.


Debora Greger

The Yale Review

July 2012


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