My mother was small and fierce, Hair so long and dark It was thought Night had fallen early On her shoulders.
She wore flowered aprons With big pockets, To put lost chickens in. Small, yellow chickens Almost new born, Who pecked the grains of corn Lying in the folds Of a lovely cotton geranium.
Her wedding ring was gone, Lost among the garden potatoes. She wept about that. Tried to climb the tree To see if the magpie Had it in her nest. ‘For magpies love gold,’ she said. But we all knew the nest was empty.
For years and years, She would rub that ringless finger, Until I was certain That at some time The ring had been found
And my small, fierce mother Had simply cheated science By rubbing it into invisibility.
October now, Bringing the first sighting of Winter Leaning on the fence Like any old farmer Looking over his fields.
The fox, Running for cover, Leaves his tracks Across the set-aside meadow Full of weeds, Thistles and the odd potato From last year’s crop.
Winter, Thinking it over Like any old farmer, Perches on the farm gate Planning a harvest Of icy nights and bitter mornings, Of frost bitten fingers and frozen water, Of glittering trees and silver beauty
If only I could hear again, The whispering snow On candled window pane, Or see the glow of gas lamps lit To light the dark and silent street.
If only I could hear again The milk cart rumbling, The milkman grumbling, Crates of bottles clinking, chinking, By doorsteps white with snow.
Hear again a door creak open, A voice quiet and softly murmuring To the milkman frostily crunching His bitter way down the icy morning.
If only I could see again Those lost now and gone. Touch the khaki greatcoat spread Across the cold and icy bed, Brass buttons winking and we remembering Some once read stories of tired soldiers On edgy watch for some gun glinting Out in the wasteland darkness.
A thousand different greatcoats lying Reckless in the frozen mud.
If only I could hear again The crackle of the coal fire burning, Quiet voices murmuring, teacups rattling, The smile of one, the touch of another. The warm hand pulling the covers back That lie freezing on the frozen bed.
Wake up! Wake up! The war is over. Hold memory tight For nothing will be the same again.
The dark red dahlias seem always to be the last flower to give in to the onset of winter with their big shaggy heads, firm stems and dark strong leaves, yet often when they have given up, one small daisy appears, sometimes even with pink tingeing their tiny petals, as if in complete defiance of the frost.
This garden is in retreat, Dark red dahlias heralding the end. Yesterday’s dreams already lying down With their heads on the pillow.
A hard frost killed the pale roses.
But this garden acknowledges no retreat, Defiantly flowering one final daisy. Today’s dreams already on their toes, Waiting to get a move on.
After weeks of being unwell, I was cheered by the sight of the rhododendrons full of tight buds, reminding me that, although it was a long way away, Spring would come, the buds would open and their glorious flowers would shine out. Warmth and colour would be in the world again.
HOPE IN TRAINING
Those tight little buds are waiting For next Spring. There’s no sign of hurry, No hint of impatience. In fact, just looking at them Reveals an alternative world To the one we live in.