Tennessee’s State Tree, Liriodendron Tulipifera, Family Magnoliaceae
I liked its foxheaded look, its four-peaked leaf
whiskering up at the tips; I liked
its hell-no height, so tall I couldn't reach
a branch, even with a boost; I liked it best
goldfinch bright, yellower than the ribbon
we left knotted around it all one year;
I liked penciling poplar in the book
I made in seventh grade, which contained
the leaves of thirty-five East Tennessee trees
and no actual knowledge of trees,
or else I would've written magnolia,
my fake poplar's family name—
that waxy, genteel name I like to mock.
I was proud that our state tree could grow
on mountains, in hollers, in my yard
(one dog or another chained to it),
in any shit field from one end of the state
to another, proud it wasn't soft, like moonlight
roping through branches in a habitat
only real on a TV screen.
We never used and never knew
its proper name and didn't want to know.
For my grandfather its names were shutters,
shingles, cabinetry; for my father
its names are the names of forty years
of dogs; for me, its names become the pulp
left in my mouth from some country club south
gracious with trees I hadn't seen and didn't want
to see. I thought it was a harder wood
than what it was because it had to be.
A Literary Field Guide to