#6 – Janvier / January 2024

Mónica de la Torre


Greedy for blossoms, euphoric

that the wind’s snapped a branch

for me to redeem, I let Shadow

trample on the buds.


Later, when I wound the pit

of an avocado, it bleeds

before my eyes.


Between ages we run

out of eggs, chrono-

biology’s downside. My still lifes.


Play mad, she instructs: ¡Hágase la loca!


Push the language through the hourglass.

A Year and a Day 

All verb, no subject.

An anti-pastoral that forgets to forget that poetry is underwritten by labor.

An odd triangulation between us.

And blueberries in the bushes, if you look.

At some point he asks me if I still have the ring he once gave me. He needs it back.

Black squares: analog, digital.

Bruce is asleep. He may or may not be dreaming.

Cathy & Adolfo are asleep in the living room. They may or may not be dreaming.

Carla visits me in the dream. She’s alive and uncharacteristically cheerful.

Covid in the picture; they were all in a pod together.

Cumbia at the taco stand in the market.

Feelings of intense dislike—I don’t think I would like him if we met at a party.

Ghostly campuses downtown. 

Going on being.

I closed my eyes and saw ripples in the lake at Promised Land.

I dreamt a reversal: I had this unquenchable thirst and my father confronted me about my drinking.

I get on a crowded bus that makes a long stop in front of Woodhull Hospital.

I need to keep the door open.

I’d shut myself in my office, but there’s no ventilation in here.

I’m here because I wanted to write down this line by William James: the “great thing in all education is to make our nervous system our ally instead of our enemy.”

“If you’re bored give it up.”

In the dream, I say to someone that of course it’d make sense that I’m having trouble sleeping, who isn’t, given what we’re all reading and seeing on the news.  

I was coming from a building I’ve never been to that often appears in other dreams.

It’s the first Saturday in March.  

It’s the start of week seven.

Leo asleep in his crib in the little office downstairs.

Last night: I am watching a Herzog film about rental families at an actual theater. All kinds of strange things going on—lots of distance between people, suspicion, theater half empty, masks half worn.


Modernist, modest, cantilevered, brick and lots of glass on the ground floor.

No mask, no service.

No one at the gastropub on Broome Street.

Not among, between.

* NOTE: Will reconstruct previous days.

Patrons in the outdoor dining bubbles try their utmost to maintain a semblance of normality. 

Poetry addresses itself to two fundamental limits: death and the barrier of other people’s minds, reads the essay.

Saw “An Introduction to Nameless Love” instead.

“Say what you feel not what you ought to say.”

Seems ridiculous, but if you insist.

Skip the crowded hugs-free art fair.

Stock up on provisions at the Italian place.

“Swap roles.”

The beyondness.

The I Ching recommends “calculated waiting.” 

The quiet at school the following Monday when we go over.

“The work of the shepherd becomes a kind of loafing.”

There is no out.

There, I’ve said it.

Tropical mood at the market’s taco stand.

Two more dreams: I am allowed to visit Valeria. She gives me a tour of her new duplex somewhere outside the city. She wakes at 8:30 am, writes from 10–12 pm, invariably, and in the evenings, if she’s able to, goes over what she did in the morning.

Two weeks later I’m prepping for an online workshop.

Upbeat signs: “We’re open!” “We’ve missed you!”

Vallejo, lassoer of parenthesis.

Vibrant resonance of life / proportion in space.

Why can’t I do the same?

Y cada recuerdo es una trampa.

“You must now submit to the fates.”

Saucer Magnolia

Let the writing follow the trees, was the instruction, 

so I went on a walk and later in circles 

to get better views of specimens most often standing

for variability and many-sidedness.

I gravitated toward this one, swayed

by its unmistakable tepals—petals

identical to sepals except for the carousel effect

of their terms’ transposed consonants.

Its cup-sized blooms captivated me,

much like the beetles bumbling their way

into them and getting trapped overnight,

by design, to ensure cross-pollination.


This ornamental with ample name recognition, 

“as common as fertilizer at every garden 

center,” is “precocious” and “reliable year in

and year out.” First among flowering trees,

it flaunts its fleshy blossoms earlier than most:

“the tree can look stunning one bright late winter or early spring afternoon and with an overnight temperature drop to 25 or 28 degrees become a mass of limp brown tepals the next day.” 1

Only a fool would disagree it’s a billboard for spring:

fragile, downy buds—survivors of the season’s

swings—showing themselves triumphantly.


The habit is “generally low branched, with upright-

arching branches forming a rounded outline.” 2

Like me, you might wonder about habit in this context.


Here it points to the tree’s general architecture,

praised by Linnaeus for having “the most splendid 

leaves and flowers named for the most splendid botanist,”

Pierre Magnol, by another French botanist,

Charles Plumier. A director of France’s first botanical garden,

in Montpellier, Magnol might have never known a tree

was named in his honor. A matter of semantics:

we owe to him the use of the term family

to groups of plants resembling each other

as much, if not more, than the all-too-human members

of happy and unhappy families alike.


Incidentally, I visited the Jardin des plantes

one quiet Sunday a few Julys ago, as I was coping with a prognosis.

Concerning busts, I was nearly alone there surrounded

by formidable ones of Nostradamus, Rabelais, and others,

as well as a couple strolling about with a child.


I’d gone to the garden to calm my nervous system

and study the effects of varying shades of green

on my feelings’ range of motion. A map on a sign

indicated I was at the location of “The Systematic School”:  

“the heart of the Garden. Successively a testing ground under the great Magnol, a demonstration school … and then a systematic school … this sector was rehabilitated after World War II.”

Amid the ghosts of plagues past, I found myself

producing scenarios of a dread fittingly gargantuan in scale.

Then and there, it dissolved at the sight of another

garden favorite with a daisy-like, heliotropic

disposition: radiating blanket flowers,

self-contained explosions of yellow-tipped orange

and, if you look closely, pink. 


Under a Magnolia grandiflora a sign relayed

that, in 1689, Plumier had the idea of baptizing plants

discovered in America after the old continent’s botanists.

A quarter century later he arrived at magnolia for a tree

predating bees and once coetaneous with dinosaurs.

Origin of the specimen: Southeastern US.

Longevity: “150 to 200 years.”    

The beautiful trees of the Jardin des plantes.

As for the specimen on Governors Island, this hybrid’s

presence in North America is recorded as early as 1832.

Available for purchase at the Linnean Botanic Garden

in Flushing, Queens,3 it was by far the costliest of the lot,

at $8 when most trees cost 50 cents. Here, its origin tale:

After fighting in Napoleon’s armies

and “disabused of life’s illusions,” Soulange-Bodin,

for whom the saucer magnolia cultivar was named in 1826,

retired to his exotic nursery at a villa outside Paris.

An oft-quoted passage of his writings encapsulates the spirit

of his gesture:

“To gardens I cheerfully devote the remainder of my life. I shall not retrace the sad picture of the past. The Germans have encamped in my garden. I have encamped in the gardens of the Germans. It had doubtless been better for both parties to have stayed home and planted their cabbages.” 4

Cabbages being nothing like the hybrid he bred by extracting

pollen from M. Liliflora blooms and dabbing it,

much like pigment, on the stigmatic surfaces

of M. Denudata’s receptacles, streaking with purple

the so-called virginal purity of the latter’s pallid tepals.

Thus two species original to China merged in a French

culture the world found irresistible.


La culture! Que ce mot a de charmes et d’empire…5

How much charm and empire the word culture has!


Information runs through these lines like sap,

leading to an inflorescence that’s a terminal,

solitary flower.  


Notice how the poem’s aboutness became its burden.


How many other ways

are there to know trees.

[1] From Manual of Woody Landscape Plants: Their Identification, Ornamental Characteristics, Culture, Propagation and Uses by Michael Dirr and Charles W. Heuser Jr. (Stipes Publishing, 1988).
[2] All quotes on this page with the exception of the one above are from Dirr’s Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs (Timber Press, 2011.)
[3] “The saucer magnolia” by David H. in “Growing History: The Philadelphia Historic Plants Consortium,” posted on Oct. 14, 2012. https://growinghistory.wordpress.com/2012/10/14/the-saucer-magnolia/
[4] From “A modest tribute to Etienne Soulange-Bodin at this late date,” by Carl R. Amason, AMS Newsletter, Spring-Summer 1976. 
[5] From Notice Sur Une novelle espéce de Magnolia by Etienne Soulange-Bodin (Decourchant et Gallay, 1826).