The Tulip Merchant

In the days before full bloom they are like lips.
A woman’s lips, of course, and those as well,
Though it is hardly the place of a cultured man
To say such a thing.

But their beauty is its own process of thought, really,
Beyond metaphor: The tulip is tulip-shaped.
There is no other form made by man or by God
To which it is compared.

The potters all along the Straat these days
Kick their wheels and make their tulip-vases.
But artifice is no match for nature either in beauty
Or in price.

I am the necessary link in the chain, an arranger
Of marriages, or of assignations, I suppose.
They say it of me even as they pound on my door
To be the first lover of the purple that I procured
Only this week. They forever wish to be first,
As any whoremaster will.

I too find them lovely, I suppose. But I have no time
To grow flowers or to make vases. You see, sir,
This bulb and its promised blaze of red and white?
A fortnight ago I sold its sibling for the price
Of a cottage by the water.

And so I would ask you, sir:
Is it sacred or profane to place
So high a value on beauty?
Or can it perhaps be both?

(2011)

Another exercise poem; this one was simply to write a dramatic monologue.

I was reading Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire at the time, and was fascinated by the chapter on tulips and the tulipomania that swept Holland in the 1600s.

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