Impeccable handwriting. Beautiful thin lines as a matter of course,

fraught with peril. In Singapore my hands and tongue
were heavy and humid, like trying to bite rainclouds—
how things resist being put to page! Here,

I sit up late in the greenhouse, not trying

to convince the flora to speak. Oh yes,

there’s orchids here in textbook rows,

elicited in the botanical garden

like the same word pronounced completely differently.

They grow and are made. A clever woman,
Miss Hovakimian, stitched this one into an emblem.

They turned her Ashken to Agnes, and

she built them the eye of an island. Here,
they know nothing of this history,
can only see the bloom is strong and beautiful.

See how it resembles the feeling
of wanting to fly? See how it resembles
a mouth? The truth is,
there’s no such thing as an incorrect rose.
Any garden is simple:
a peculiar arrangement of useful things.



This poem came out of a metaphor I sometimes use to explain that yes, I am a linguist, and no, I am not going to hate you if you don’t speak “properly.” It’s like the difference between gardening and botany—a botanist is not interested in the correctness of flowers. Later I found out that Singapore's national flower is a hybrid orchid variety secretly created by an Armenian-Singaporean woman whose name was Anglicized from Askhen to Agnes, and this is the result.