A Headington Notebook
Tall snow-laden trees, with frozen arms
uplifted. Dumb beseeching ghosts.
Sun all day among denuded apple-trees and virgin
snowdrops. The black and white tom struts diagonally,
sniffs the air in disdain. Bees sip their nectar from
wide-open crocus cups; a vernal orgy.
The wind howls among bare trees – hurling detritus
about the back streets. Used tin-cans scatter, cartons
and empty dustbins are bowled along. Thin grey shadows
shake on the quivering lawn. Our fence bends and breaks.
Wind-blown crocuses have closed their purple cups,
now battered and forlorn. Three men plough the street,
their backs bent over drills; one gesticulating.
Harbingers of spring: iris reticulata,
upright and stately. Their purple flowers
are six-pointed stars, fully splayed and velvety.
A charmed life they lead, weathering wind and rain,
five dauntless soldiers shielded by leaves
which rise around them like a ring of spears.
He may be lost, but he’s elegant, and by far
the biggest bird in sight. Is he wandering
the city in his finery like an exiled king,
or strutting proudly, playing a gallant soldier
in that russet coat? His tail-feathers trail
as he pecks the lawn, cocking his brave head sideways.
Behind the roadworks a rich almond tree spreads wide
its laden branches. The fragile blossoms
quietly promise more than this uncertain spring.
Two pigeons on the shed, so heavy their wing-flap racket
vies with the digger. They sidle and skitter
tangled up in each other then flutter away.
Wide open, the blooms of our cream-cupped hellebores
hang downward, demure. The window’s open
all afternoon, birds flitting, diggers in the street.
Sun-drenched cups of crocuses welcome the bees
but bore the pigeons. Two magpies settle
in the old pear-tree’s branches, muddled up with joy.
Far away from here in the mind’s spacious garden
stock-doves are mating. Rose-stems arch and fan,
sending out their leaflets like urgent messages. Sun warms
the pear-tree and the corms of irises put up their green flags.
The knobbly twig-ends are thick with pale unfurling buds.
They will green the tree. Hyacinths pool beneath
the gnarled old trunk. Our cat sleeps through spring.
I’m trying to read with the window wide open.
Something walls me in. The branches rustle, bend
with the quickening wind. Sky is grey-silver. Tall bamboo
stems sway, whispering secrets to me like a hidden sea.
Sudden wing-flap, loud commotion: two red kites
over the tall church. What a deal of fuss:
vexed by the almighty they fight as they mate.
The cherry tree’s petals already fall –
spring’s demise in a pale pink pool.
Our cat guards the house crouched low on the window-sill,
back to the glass pane. Her curled tail twitching
she watches the summer pass, indifferently.
On long summer days under apple-trees, houses
empty onto lawns. Our back gardens
intermingle, pooling their greens into one.
Barbecues are lit; smells drift over fences, with
ripples of laughter. Ice-cream vans scatter
their tunes at street-corners like a peal of bells.
Nonchalant, the cat on the armchair is gazing at
a miracle. The sky is deepest blue, flecked with
bright scudding pink: exquisite marble. She flicks
her long tail, her eyes close languorously, unimpressed.
Michaelmas daisies tall as trees; and around them on
the unmown lawn fat pigeons soodle among the layered
leaves and windfalls, loosely strewn. Sun all day.
The cat still cares for nothing and for no-one; not at all.
Rain drizzles among the yellowing hostas, now nibbled
to lace by slugs. The cat sits indoors eyeing squirrels
on the lawn: not worth the bother. An immense pear,
bruised by falling, disintegrates slowly, eaten by flies.
Three droplets of rain hang from a crumpled trefoil
of summer jasmine. Catching the light, they
tremble like tears – a jester’s wintry cap and bells.
Poor robin, flapping at the feeder, cannot grip:
impossible feat! The tiny chaffinch is more adept,
well balanced. It gorges, happy. The woodpecker (proud,
aloof) stabs the lawn for ants –succulent morsels;
the huge pigeon struts his stuff all alone –
a slow overfed tycoon. Oh they’re all doing
nicely at the feast except poor robin, flapping.