The entry that inspired this poem reads:
"TANJE, a place in ATVATABAR some fifty miles by pneumatic tube from CALNOGOR. Notable are the gardens, where the evolutionary link from plants to animals, the phytes, are preserved. There are more than two hundred species of phytes in the gardens of Tanje Palace, including the lilasure (a bird-like fern), the green gazzle of Glockett (a flying weed) and the yarphappy (an ape-like flower).
(William R. Bradshaw, The Goddess of Atvatabar, being the History of the Discovery of the Interior World and Conquest of Atvatabar, New York, 1892).
THE GARDENER OF TANJE PALACE
by Tabatha Yeatts
He began as a scientist,
this gardener of neither-this-nor-thats,
an explorer, peeling back the world
to prod at the layers underneath.
On one such expedition—
a trip sponsored by Tanje's Grand Vizier—
a search for drinking water
led the scientist to a fern
that made him question his sanity.
“Dehydration can cause hallucinations,”
as he fingered the wing-shaped leaves.
At the sound of the bird-song
sweetly ringing from the fern's green beak,
he sat heavily on the grass.
There were more in-betweens—
weeds that dove down on their prey from above,
blooms with gorilla-jowls and drooping petal-arms,
vines that braided their own leaves,
bushes that licked their thin, green lips.
Collecting the beast-plants
was delicate work. More than anything,
he meant them to live, to thrive,
to want for nothing,
though they were as alien to the scientist
as the Vizier, whose name he
unofficially assigned to the ape-faced flower.
The scientist's doting attentions
brought them home alive
and he set about building a garden.
He had taken care to record
the plants' locations related to each other,
aware that he was not the god of this world,
and that they had an order
he did not understand.
When the Grand Vizier ordered him
to move the bat-buds next to the fanged ivy,
told him to heighten the garden's appeal
by carving out a "dangerous" area in the back
and assembling a "beautiful" section
near the wooing bench,
the gardener planned their escape,
and the Vizier woke
to find a desolate yard,
with only one sagging plant
next to the wooing bench
with odd, simian flowers
that reminded him of something.