‘In Kew Gardens’ by Angela Topping

In Kew Gardens

Start at the pagoda, as good a place as any –
there must be a beginning somehow.
The garden is peopled with trees in gregarious knots
shadowing the land, neighbourly and kind.
 
Past the Japanese gateway, that’s not for now. Travel
grass paths to bluebells: their illiterate heads,
empty of clappers, are bowed in the shade.
 
There is my father, stooping to help my seven-year old self
to pick properly, gliding fingers down green stems,
armfuls for mum’s green glass vases. They will not keep.
I do not wave to them but tiptoe on.
 
From oak and ash forest, leaves falling as I go,
pass to a lake. Waterlilies open delicate hands,
implore me to stay; loveheart colours, waltz time pastels
entice, but I am implacable.
 
There’s Holly Walk, dark glassy prickled leaves
are Christmasses long gone. Too green, I cannot stay
despite the robin with his cheeky song, syllables clear as springs.
 
The journey must continue through bamboo groves
to glasshouses stuffed with rarest plants.
A fiddleback fern unrolls before my eyes,
a red tulip streaked with black glistens like shot silk.
 
The spells they cast are only memories which may never
resurface in my dreams. The smell of good earth,
damp with life, is the common language of all gardens.
 
For a while, mum walks beside me, chattering,
performing her old trick of twisting off a plant sprig,
defying all the signs. She will grow this on at home.
 
My time in this garden cannot last, and I have yet to see
the coconut-ice of magnolia, stately palms waving under glass.
The Temple of Arethusa is closed to me.
 
I’ve been spendthrift with my hours. Soon gates will be locked.
Have I lingered at the wrong places or rushed headlong,
following too many memories? When did I find there was no returning?
 
(from Paper Patterns)
 
Angela Topping is the author of nine solo poetry publications, published by Stride, Bluechrome, Salt and Rack Press. Her most recent is Paper Patterns, from Lapwing. She is a full time freelance poet and she also writes reviews, and criticism for Greenwich Exchange and OUP.

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