Wednesday, 3 August 2016

PATHS by John Montague

We had two gardens. 

A real flower garden 
overhanging the road 
(our miniature Babylon). 
Paths which I helped 
to lay with Aunt Winifred, 
riprapped with pebbles; 
shards of painted delph; 
an old potato boiler; 
a blackened metal pot, 
now bright with petals. 

Hedges of laurel, palm. 
A hovering scent of boxwood. 
Crouched in the flowering 
lilac, I could oversee 
the main road, old Lynch 
march to the wellspring 
with his bucket, whistling, 
his carrotty sons herding 
in and out their milch cows: 
a growing whine of cars. 

Then, the vegetable garden 
behind, rows of broad beans 
plumping their cushions, 
the furled freshness of 
tight little lettuce heads, 
slim green pea pods above 
early flowering potatoes, 
gross clumps of carrots, 
parsnips, a frailty of parsley, 
a cool fragrance of mint. 

Sealed off by sweetpea 
clambering up its wired fence, 
the tarred goats' shack 
which stank in summer, 
in its fallow, stone-heaped corner. 

With, on the grassy margin, 
a well-wired chicken run, 
cheeping balls of fluff 
brought one by one into the sun 
from their metallic mother 
—the oil-fed incubator— 
always in danger from 
the marauding cat, or 
the stealthy, hungry vixen: 
I, their small guardian. 

Two gardens, the front 
for beauty, the back 
for use. Sleepless now, 
I wander through both 
and it is summer again, 
the long summers of youth 
as I trace small paths 
in a trance of growth: 
flowers pluck at my coat 
as I bend down to help, 
or speak to my aunt, 
whose calloused hands 
caressing the plants 
are tender as a girl's.

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