Wild Court

An international poetry journal based in the English Department of King’s College London

‘Root’: a poem by Suna Afshan




At the bottom of the garden
In the heart of a blackberry bush
Are limbs that do not bleed marrow.
Feather bone, iron blood, mind of aether
Eyes hold a malignant question
The tongue too new to pluck:
What was that darkness from which I came?
       ‘You, apple of the mud
       Grown from a spore
       Of my tuberous hide
       You were planted as balm
       For the ache that smarted
       When the figs grew grey and rank.
       And I knew all your mortal foibles
       Bred you, earthling, nonetheless—
       But will you always squint
       Like an ember in the night?
       Will you ever shed your lanugo
       When you burrow to the surface
       Like any other mole?
       And do you see that blackbird?
       See him pillage the underbelly
       Of that fig tree you daren’t harvest?
       Every August I watch the spiders
       Come to stake their claim
       And every waning September
       When the soil is thick with jam
       And this forsaken blackbird
       Comes to get drunk in the shade
       I remember you could not survive here
       If you knew how to mind the land.’
The touch of the Gardener is everywhere:
It’s in shoelaces nailed to the garden
Verge guiding the jasmine’s amble
In those paisley rags that stem
And shackle all fledgling vegetation;
And it’s in the quake of the mantle
That yields to the will of this newness—
He who was smothered in the airless turf
He who wailed a song of labour
The cats parroted back half as real.
When his cry rung through the land
The hemlock wore a mottled dalmatian muck—
Even the sun-mouthed blackbird stirred
And he soared out of the shade.
Ever since the wind has quietened
In the boughs of every lilac chastetree
Every deciduous without leaf or shame.
In the fig tree a spider has coiled its glass
Around the mother of every honeybee
And caught in the perlicue
Of those wood-locks
She, fading and febrile, divines all:
       ‘There’s knotweed there
       There on the pondside
       Look how it grows
       So strangely now!
       Buttercups burn soil
       Spots between twig thighs
       And your Root will know
       That plight in green adulthood!’
The Gardener tallies the springs it’ll take
To blanch the blackberries of all his viscera
How many prayers through a dandelion
It’ll cost for the meadows to recover
But when rumours of the honeybee
Prophecy pass through the Gardener’s ear
All his woe brines the rain
Strips the birch of its colour.
       ‘You, russet of my eye
       Sparrow through my heart
       Born when the figs fell soft
       You were unearthed by a squirrel
       Who thought you a nut
       Buried when the conkers dropped.
       For you I crooned life
       Into a crumb of mud
       Stole your spirit
       From a waning star;
       Desperate, yes, like clover for dew
       Like the wick for the saltine match.
       And I remember the spring
       You sprouted a mind
       The blackbird sobbed all season long—
       His fate is too twined with yours now
       Pips puncture the chords of his song.
       But you, child, suckling on thyme
       I saw your soul come unstuck in the night;
       So I cut you from that cooling core
       Brought you here on the tooth of a knife.
       For this was a place untouched by chaos
       Where hawthorn dappled the shade
       Before you no stone barb in the turf
       No toadstool with blistering heads.
       Only, a thimble-casket
       For the honeybee mother
       Now rests on an obsidian plinth
       And when the hajjis circle
       They howl out a question:
       What is that darkness to which she went?’