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Nostos, a gardener’s lament
It’s commonly believed that a little gentle gardening
Brings peace to those whose arteries are hardening,
Whereas, in fact, one learns to dread the spring,
And the Proustian moments petalsmell can bring.
My great maternal grandpa, Edgar Hand,
Lurks in the smell of wallflowers, which demand,
The immediate return of childhood wonder,
At gas light, pipesmoke, leather and gazunder.
His wife, the Guinness-guzzling Lydia May
Would send by steam train, annually, a spray
Of lilly-of-the-valley. Now they spread
All over my allotment, like the dead.
Bluebell and primrose summon like a knell
A Cornish wood my gran and I knew well
Whilst my father, to whom I gave my favourite rose,
Planted myosotis then turned up his toes.
When plants are said to tolerate some shade
That shouldn’t mean a ghost that’s just been laid.
One summer’s evening, led by smells anew,
I bent to the earth and mother-in-law poked through;
Hemerocallis, rockrose, Solomon’s seal,
Sea holly, miniature fir – the senses reel
When, after rain, a Canterbury Bell
Like Proserpine, pops up again from hell,
And intimations of mortality remain
When winter comes, and they all pop back again.
So, if you come to stay, don’t bring a plant.
It might recall some hairy-chinned old aunt
Who, thus released, will hover like a sprite
In the smoky air and the fading autumn light.
Or worse, when you shuffle off your mortal coil
You’ll take up residence among my soil.
And, wandering innocent before The Fall,
I’ll catch your scent, and hear the carrion call.
Nostalgia’s from the Greek. One should refrain
From nostos (a return) and algos (pain),
But a single leaf can serve to hold us fast,
Strong roots attach the present to the past.