Three Bouquets

Text: Johnson, Kimberly . "Three Bouquets." In A Metaphorical God, 30-32. 1st ed. New York, NY: Persea Books, Inc., 2008. Reproduced by permission of the author.


What awful love worked this superfluity?[1]

My U.S. Geological Survey map[2]

grids the haphazard landscape into restrained


geometries, bulges and sandstone hoodoos

smoothed by the benign cursive of contour lines.

But look! --- At the chart's least cluttered corner,


the cartographer abandoned

his strict piety to boutonnière[3]

the desert: a compass rose, its freehand


arabesques transgress the quadrants, a baroque

whimsy of the official pen. I imagine him

gripping silently his staves and theodolite,[4]


stumped by some unmappable beauty, it bucking

his measure, efflorescing in him---.

Heartstruck[5] he tricks out the plateau in posies[6]










Fond romantic, I've followed the map farther

than asphalt, taken myself up to the bare

coordinates where the compass rose blooms.


I'm quick to see the cartographer's flourish

as a valentine, quicker to want what beauty

forced its mark here, to lose my bearings by it:


let my north be this rosy seduction

of sandstone flashed with quartz, my east that far, high mountain

shining like all the kingdoms of the world.[7]




















My dear cartographer, how misplaced our faith

in the compass rose, as if its love-knot

could fix beauty. As if it marked anything


but the heart's excesses. My own heart surges

to pitch its rococo against the map's hard facts.

It is willing to break itself to flower.


[1] The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word, "awful" and its various meanings depending on the context or historical moment. In this context "awful" is intentionally ambiguous. The potentially applicable definitions include:

1.     Causing dread; terrible, dreadful, appalling.

2.     Worthy of, or commanding, profound respect or reverential fear.

3.     Solemnly impressive; sublimely majestic.

4.     slang. Frightful, very ugly, monstrous; and hence as a mere intensive deriving its sense from the context = Exceedingly bad, great, long, etc.

5.     Terror-stricken; timid, timorous, afraid.

6.     Profoundly respectful or reverential.

[2] The United States Geological Survey offers regional maps dating back to the 19th century. If you would like to get an idea of the landscape of this poem, search "Zion National Park" or "Bryce Canyon National Park," for the best approximation.

[3] This article gives the history of the boutonnière and its historical and symbolic significance.

[4] This article illustrates how these orienteering tools are used.

[5] This song by Hamilton Liethauser evokes much of the romantic wilderness imagery associated with this poem and its use of the word, "heartstruck." The music video for "Heartstruck" is shot in Marfa, in southwest Texas, which has a landscape similar to Utah, where the poet resides.

[6] There is a long history in English poetry of comparing the word poesy or poesies, to the flowers known as poesies. This is used as both a pun and a metaphor equating poems to flowers. This piece by famous Renaissance author Sir Philip Sydney discusses the significance of this word and its associated genre.

[7] This phrase evokes biblical imagery, specifically the Devil's temptation of Christ in the wilderness. These episodes inspired Milton's Paradise Regain'd.