By Stephen Kingsnorth
I hear praise, awe the redwoods win, and oaks, withstood near battle scars, but my gem, acorn, palmed, admired, a prospect stored, squirrel ignored. I see them bury, gnaw, forget, a sapling fighting undergrowth, then filtered light through canopy calls for the greenman cambium. And it finds how to rise again, serves auxin to still living leaves, that they may fall, dust vital shroud, reincarnation in the wood, more golden babies from the womb.
These leaves of Appalachian spring, composed delight in simple things, will soon be brittle, blown web bits, auxin ejects for dung beetles. So why delight at death’s approach, short pleasure of delight at hues; are eyes so easily seduced, chromatic obits writ so large? As read leaves turned remain in book, so autumn dress lays compost rug, and life recycled brings new birth because of worms, small creeping things. So rise then die, emotions mix, borne by the tides of season’s rings, reminding marks in trunk through years; the solid tree that grows to age.
As silence brought Vermeer to light - reflect screened film, pearl earring framed - then darkness brings the nearer sound, as blind hear touch and deaf see smell, cacophony retired to bed. A fox barks, shin scrape, blood drawn scuff, a softer pad, well-balanced weight, nocturnal rustle, rodent creeps, of street-wise doe, even clop hoof, the haunt of wights, sleep human greed. The owl, bank branch of concrete, steel, spread wing spies iridescent paths, of urban urine rat-run maze, the flowing Docklands gangland streams, predictive hoot booked commonplace. Nature’s red tooth and raw let loose, safari hunt on veldt, steppe, scrub, architecture, brutal design; Mnemosyne stores memories, as daylight sounds replayed in dreams. Drainage deltas and run-off rills, web swales, graffiti moonlight sprays, a jungle spread, wade gutter, snipes; dark tails, V sign trails, city wakes - remember lost, yet celebrate.
The level view of bird’s eye, still, as flat-out fulmars fight the wind, against the dimpled hinterland, estuary lunar with the stream. Sat by the fall of precipice, lounged, folded in both body, eye, beneath my level, bird of prey, brown plumage green, preparing stoop. That I should eye-to-eye hold wings, unnatural, except that gale had brought a level crossing point, lashes feathered, I blinked, they not.
Succulent serves juice as word, sweet taste and sound of sucking lent, such contrast to its desert, parched, yet tank, its cistern, reservoir, and spikes, protection for the sap. A bud of pink is promise red, a hint, tinge bloom, embarrassed blush, some rarity in public realm, exposure soon for common weal, example, global greenhouse style. If only earth was splashed same way, with water aid beneath the soil, its moisture trapped, tap needing route - but well provided, boring tale for those whose thirst is satisfied.
Hyperbole, diva, prima, was never trait for peeping glow, declining formal, sparkling low. Like cowslips, settled, nestled grass, blade shade, in banks thrive, drop pearl dew, amongst hard graveside marble lines, sneak out in bunches, butter-milk. Prim pastel, shy in place, breakthrough, short-stalked packed floppers, shower spread. Ready bunched, satisfied to stay half-hid, flourishing, without need to be, with flourish, presented on knee; better, leg bent, the sight in site to gain, blush cream the bloom, pale brave-face rose, the primrose hue.
For years it was a briar patch, the spittoon for my tar babies where dog-ends crouched and mucked about, a wasteland, harsh for lions’ teeth, few tattered rugs for undergrowth, a two-piece suite though downside-up, no longer fire-resistant kite flying as passers tipped more dump. Deep roots beneath the mats required, agent orange or napalm spray from TV dinners, Nam and eggs; but then despite my settled view, like greenstick-fractured sapling torn, my seasoned outlook snapped in two, algebra working in my bones, now marrow spreading, open flowered. New groundwork digging in my mind - a landscape under my control, working not against, with the clay, the carpets floored a compost heap. I burned brambles, skipped furniture, nightshade cleared from the deadly dock, laid grass where the couch had strayed, from mattress rot, created beds. Now creepers climb where nettles rashed, an arbour necklaced jasmine gems, prim roses replace trailing dogs; the paving crazed, thyme on its stones the garden broom flings seeds about - while honeysuckled by the bees. Herbaceous fills the spacious soil - I put flags out to celebrate.
Is this the money tree they speak, my honesty, a coin mint, its seeding after petal death, the purple phase in woodland haze? The ancients knew the plants to heal, medicaments, found mendicants, which with the balsam, friar’s brew, found images, the stuff of life. Full open lids, releasing sites to play with fruitful memories, fresh buds provide palette to show how art is framed from common wheal. So peer at slabs, buddleia break, know secret seeds, extinction’s flow, resilience where earth thought bare, erupting birth where death had dared.
Why does the earth not seem to know, be unaware of wailing crop, tsunami swept our norms awry, the heaving gasp, their lonely death, infection grip within the lungs? For here, because untrodden path, where seed has fallen, passed by bird, a buddleia has taken root and butterflies swarm over mauve and tap exotic cling of scent. They were not told, they had not heard that winter life was put on hold, that clock had locked on Covid call. In ignorance, naivety, they still find nectar, as they will.
Leaving the wheels, the multi-storey park I want is strewn with fuchsia pheromones pulled unscene, pulsating from petals, ferny fronds swimming through exhausted fumes. Brutal blocks bud buddleia, cracked concrete blooms, to engage wings wearing butterflies. I see barriers built of bluebells and begonias, rubber squeals cry out as driving by cement studded with crocus then cyclamen, chrysanthemums. Gardenia-garlanded girders surmount hydrangeas around hydrant taps; blaring rage ignores the rusting asps, scent-swaying spray, as honeysuckle hangs. My bumper brushes by down-drainpipes decorated with earwigging dahlias, as horn daffodils scrape. I search the surface slabs which sprout salvias, peer signage encircled searching stems, supplanted now by sweet pea rows. Cramped corners, alba kingcup-crowned hide from rose-riot ramps rising to rooftop, and rhododendrons like a Sino hill. My tyres rustle lupin pots as I come to rest in straight lines painted with love-in-the-mist. Lavatera lifts pass between the compost heap and potting shed. Her chores complete, herbaceous calls, so I drive through the auric shower, tagetes round-trailing ticket machine.
Stephen Kingsnorth (Cambridge M.A., English & Religious Studies), born in London, but retired to Wales, UK, from ministry in the Methodist Church due to Parkinson’s Disease, has had pieces published by on-line poetry sites, printed journals and anthologies, most recently The Sweetycat Press, The Parliament Literary Magazine, Poetry Potion, Grand Little Things, The Poet Magazine, Stone Poetry Journal.