This blog begins with a poem written in ancient Greece around the 6th Century BC that tells the story of Demeter, the goddess of the earth, and her daughter Persephone, who was kidnapped and raped by Hades, King of the Underworld, as she gathered flowers with her accompanying nymphs. Demeter hears her daughter’s cry for help but cannot find her. In her grief and fury Demeter creates a blight on earth and Hades is forced to let Persephone go, but before she leaves he tricks the girl into eating a pomegranate seed, which means that she can never fully escape from the underworld. 

When Persephone comes back to her mother the earth becomes fertile again but every year Persephone must spend a few months with Hades. More on this wonderful story at

The next section of my blog moves on from myth and poetry to the compost heap in my garden. Here many woodlouse families live on the border between the dark subterranean realms and the sunlit world above.

woodlice on a rotting log

Woodlice are Isopods, an order of crustaceans, so they are related to lobsters and shrimps. It’s thought that they evolved from animals that lived underwater but which gradually crawled out of the sea many millions of years ago. Each woodlouse has 14 legs, attached in pairs to 7 segments of its body. Woodlice live in damp places, and the females carry their babies in a fluid filled pouch on its abdomen, thus replicating their ancient watery environment to nurture their young.  There are around 3500 species of woodlice, and they can be found in every continent except Antarctica. There are about 35 species in the UK. More at

Many wonderful woodlice are hard at work as I write, converting the sodden leaves and grass cuttings in my compost heap into soil full of the power that their green chlorophyll extracted from the energy of last summer’s sun.

It’s cold and gloomy outside today so I look forward to the time when Spring warms the garden and Persephone re-appears gathering flowers with her nymphs.

In the meantime i offer an epic poem from a woodlouse.


Beneath a blanket of sodden leaves  
we dream of ancestors under the sea
who smoothed the covers on Neptune’s bed.
But the tide went out forever and now
we serve the lovely daughter of Demeter
in her underground captivity.

Our fourteen legs flicker silently
as we steal dead leaves from Hades
It’s our job to reclaim their sun-soaked 
brilliance to light Persephone’s path
as she scrambles out of our damp underworld 
into the flowering meadows of Spring.

Anne Bryan


This post is about families and togeterness, but unlike the last few blogs it’s not concerned with human families, made up of more or less autonomous individuals and their children who live together in societies, nor is it about the many other animals who live together in family groups, or sometimes in herds or flocks or shoals, competing with each other but also helping each other to survive and thrive. 

The animals in this post have a very different life strategy. Corals are associations of identical individual animals that feed together, spawn together and look and act as though they were one organism. There is no hierarchy, as there is in beehives and ant hills, where the queens lord it over the workers, corals are animals that live in colonies that no one rules. 

Hard corals, like those in the Great Barrier Reef, have a hard base of calcium to support the colony of tiny animals, known as polyps, but in soft corals the polyps are supported by gelatinous material.  

The minute coral animals are very simple, their body plan is much like that of a sea anemone, an animal which sticks to the rocks looking like a blob of jelly until the tide comes in and it opens a fringe of stinging tentacles which reach out to catch food. Here are some anemones at

The soft coral Alcynonium digitatum, commonly known as dead man’s fingers, can be found in the waters around the UK at depths of between 20 and 50 metres. There’s info and photographs at

I’ve never been scuba diving so I’ve never seen one in the flesh to take photographs. Instead I include a picture of the front at Barry Island overlooking the Bristol Channel. The lights on the promenade only faintly illuminate the surface of a realm where soft corals and other animals live largely mysterious lives a world away from the human experience.

The undersea world is vast and momentous even though one individual coral animal is very small and insignificant and does no more than feed and spawn. They can’t sing of course, except in my imagination, where anything is possible.


My proper name is Alcyonium digitatum –
in time I’ll declare my soft familiar name -
all my family are soft – and so very close -
every polyp 
nudges another 
softly softly my siblings hold me safely – we cling
softly but firmly to the sea bed – living as one soft body -
our mouths open in unison to savour the ocean -
always always 
I touch the flesh
of those close to me - they define me as myself – we are soft
as the sea swollen fingers of dead sailors waving from the depths - 
whose lifeless hands nudge you towards our soft familiar name -
dead man’s fingers -
say it softly -
in memory of your ancestors – their dead fingers 
touch you - their unfeeling hands mould you softly, 
waving insistently under your skin 
always, always 
part of you  
only in dreams or nightmares
can you float alone in a sea
of infinite possibilities. 

Anne Bryan


In this post I’m back in the garden, picking the last of the runner beans.

runner beans in flower

I’m reminded of my father, who was very fond of a plate of beans fresh from the garden with a poached egg or two on top and bread and butter on the side. 

That’s all you need to know about my father to understand this month’s poem but I feel I should say more. But what and how much? I stir a large pot of memories and facts and wonder what my father would advise me to ladle onto my readers’ plates.

I decide to use his own words about his life, abstracting from a short personal and family history he wrote. He begins with his father, Morgan David Williams, who studied in the miners reading room at Resolven, won a scholarship to Cardiff University to study mining and became a lecturer in mining and author of ‘Practical Machine Mining’ which was translated into several languages.

My father, David Aelwyn Williams (D.A. to his friends) was born in 1908. He had severe asthma as a child, but encouraged and helped by his father he worked hard at school and qualified as a doctor in 1930. 

His medical career centred on the study of asthma and other allergic diseases. He teamed up with a botanist at Cardiff Museum, Harold Hyde, to study pollen and airborne spores and their role in hay-fever and they produced many papers from the Asthma Research Unit in Cardiff. He was invited to Brussels, Paris and America to give talks on his research on asthma and other allergic diseases. He recalls his delight at visiting the Sorbonne in Paris in 1952 as President of the British Association of Allergy and how much he and my mother enjoyed a sumptuous dinner that was served on marvelous silver dishes which had been buried in the garden of one of the professors during the war.

In later life, when he was becalmed in Barry, he always enjoyed a plate of runner beans fresh from our garden. He died in1986. 

The treacheries of Spring, the sneaky frosts,
the sudden snows are blown away
in the breath of dandelion clocks, it’s time
to rummage in the corner of the shed,
collect the bamboo stakes and string, erect
an arch and lash it tight against the wind, 
and write the label - Scarlet Emperor.
I take the black and purple seeds, inert
as shiny granite pebbles and confide
them to the dirt, wait for the sodden alchemy 
and see the leaves expand the tendrils twist
around the canes and spiral in a riot
of tumbling green and scarlet, dusted black
with aphids. Everything calls back the time
when you presided as the emperor 
in the gardens of my infancy.
I see you at our table, butter melting
on your favourite supper - even when
you almost were my extra child you kept
a relish for the summer glut of beans.
The ground has swallowed you but tendrils of
your memory still cling to me. I’ll hold 
them while my frame can stand against the breath
of feathered clocks that blow the Spring away.
Anne Bryan

‘Bean Time’ was published in the magazine Tears in the Fence No 43 in 2006


My posts are usually random and unconnected, but this time I find myself unable to move on. This post remembers a woman who, like Susannah Darwin, died before her children had grown up and explores the effect this might have had on the youngest of her two sons. Her name is Frances, (1777-1810) the mother of Robert Fitzroy, captain of HMS Beagle. Frances died aged 33 when Robert was 5 years old.

Frances was the daughter of the Marquis of Londonderry, and the half-sister of Lord Castlereagh, foreign minister and leader of the House of Commons from 1812 -1822. I can’t tell you anything more about her, i can find no portrait, no letters, no memories. You’ll just have to imagine this aristocratic young woman married to Lord Grafton, a descendant of Charles II, who lived at Wakefield Lodge, an imposing Palladian house with a large park; see

When he was 12 years old Robert was sent to the Royal Naval College at Portsmouth where he was a brilliant student. He was only 26 when, as Captain of HMS Beagle, he set sail with a commission to survey the coasts of South America. 

Fitzroy knew there was mental instability in his family, his uncle Lord Castlereagh had become insane and committed suicide when his political actions were fiercely attacked.  The last Captain of the Beagle had also committed suicide and Fitzroy looked for a companion to help to relieve the loneliness and strain of being Captain during a long voyage; Darwin was a good choice as he was pleasant and easy going and he admired Fitzroy’s brilliance, his dedication to the surveys and to the welfare of his crew. Mostly the two young men got on well, though Fitzroy had outbursts of temper and suffered from bouts of depression.

On his return Fitzroy got married, he and his wife had 4 children. He wrote an account of the voyage and was awarded a Gold Medal by the Royal Geographical Society for his surveying work.  In 1853 he was appointed Governor of New Zealand. This wasn’t a success, the posting needed a diplomatic person to sort out land disputes between the Maori and the settlers and Fitzroy was forceful and autocratic, and he even made the mistake of thinking that the rights of the Maori should be respected. He was recalled. 

His next major venture was as meteorological statist to the Board of Trade. He began collecting data on the weather from ships and ports, and pioneering the science of weather forecasting. He aim was to save lives by predicting storms.

In 1862 he gave a talk on British storms to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, when he also attended a debate on Darwin’s work. At this stormy meeting people traded insults and Fitzroy, an ardent Christian and creationist, stood up and waved a large Bible. Fitzroy was distressed to know that it was though his agency that Darwin had come to have heretical ideas that opposed the Biblical account of creation. 

Clouds above the Bristol Channel

Fitzroy’s worked tirelessly at forecasting, using the recent invention of the telegraph to receive and collate the data more quickly, but accurate forecasts are still impossible and his mistakes were mocked. Exhausted, dissapointed and depressed, Fitzroy committed suicide in 1865 when he was 59.

Fitzroy’s name has been just a footnote to Darwin’s work, but he deserves much more fame on his own account, his pioneering science of weather forecasting has saved many lives. To most people though, if they’ve heard of him at all, he’s just a name on the shipping forecast.  

Frances is long forgotten, but I like to think that maybe the unremembered loss of his mother’s life was part of the reason why Fitzroy worked so hard to save lives. 

Frances had faded into the distance 
before the early mists had cleared. 
He wouldn’t find her when he scanned 
the night sky or studied the position 
of heavenly bodies on astronomical charts.
He didn’t hear her pulse beat in the twenty-two
chronometers he carried on the Beagle,
or see her face glow in phosphorescent seas. 
She never appeared in his precise cartography
of the coasts of Patagonia or Tierra del Fuego ,
but her blood surged through his sudden storms
and flooded into his quiet havens. 
He didn’t hear her speak when he deliberated 
on the justice of the Maoris’ cause
or the wickedness of denying the Bible.
He heard no echo of her voice on the telegraph lines
that fed him the data for weather forecasts.
When his calculations failed to make sense of chaos
and his storm warnings fell into a mocking abyss 
he found himself alone at the end of the earth.
His name drifted in the wake of his legendary voyage
but in the end Finisterre made way for him.  
Now his name is recited daily in the litanies 
of rainfall and wind speed, storms and mists 
that save us from the perils of the sea.
Anne Bryan


This month’s post remembers a woman who died before her children had grown up and explores the effect this had on the youngest of her two sons. This may sound a familiar theme but I’m not thinking of a Princess but of a woman called  Susannah Darwin who died in July 1817 when she was 52.

Susannah left six children:  three teenage girls, Marianne aged 19, Caroline, 17 and Susan, 14, two sons, Erasmus, 13 and Charles, 8, and her youngest girl Catherine, 7. After Susannah’s painful death from probable stomach cancer her name was never mentioned by the family, due, it was said, to their great grief. Charles said he hardly remembered his mother at all, which he thought odd as his younger sister Caroline did remember her. You can see a video showing a miniature portrait of Susannah and information on her and her family at

Charles was brought up after his mother’s death by his older sisters. His father, Robert, was a successful family doctor, a large man with a compelling presence who was kind and generous but also rather authoritative and severe.

When Charles was sixteen his father sent him to study medicine at Edinburgh with his older brother Erasmus. Charles hated medical studies so his father sent him to Cambridge to read classics with a view to becoming a clergyman. Just after he’d completed his degree Charles was invited to travel on a voyage to survey the coastline of South America.  He was 22 years old when he embarked on the voyage which was extended to take in the Galapagos, Australia and South Africa and lasted for five years and two days.

A few years after he returned home Charles married and he and his wife Emma started a family, they had 10 children. Charles spent his time following up ideas that first came to him as he studied the animals and plants he’d encountered on his voyage. He gradually went less and less into society because of poor health: he suffered bouts of sickness, palpitations, indigestion, anxiety and weakness.  A tropical disease, lactose intolerance and psychosomatic disorder have all been suggested as possible diagnoses. His illness never stopped him doing a prodigious amount of work in his search for the way life had evolved. In the last 10 years of his life the symptoms lessened.

It had been thought in the past that children did not suffer much from grief, that they easily forgot the pain of loss but the work of the eminent child psychiatrist John Bowlby (1907-1990) showed that the loss of a caregiver could have very profound effects on a child. Bowlby thought that the wall of silence the family built around his mother would have been very detrimental to Charles’ development and in his book, Charles Darwin, a New Biography, Bowlby puts forward evidence for the idea that Darwin’s ill health was the result of a childhood shadowed by an invalid and dying mother and a somewhat intimidating father. 

I like to imagine that his intense search for the connections between all living things, past and present, was also a subconcious search for his forgotten mother.

Susannah lay buried 
under forgotten memories
long before her youngest boy
set sail on his long voyage.
Seasickness always laid him low,
even on land he felt giddy 
as rocks rose and fell on a quaking shoreline,
and sea shells appeared on mountain tops. 
When he dug up the fossils
of the monstrous megatherium
he was disturbed to find modern translations 
walking slothfully upside down in the trees; 
iguanas, basking on volcanic rocks,
mocked him with memories of newts.
Even when he was safely home 
with his dear motherly Emma 
he was still unsettled. He stared 
at the expressions of monkeys in the zoo
and saw the unsteadiness of the world;
a storm of living things dissolving
into each other and into the ground
where the worms reigned supreme.
He knew he would feel the weight 
of the earth where Susannah lay, 
but the mud couldn’t contain itself,
erupting in bewildering displays
of pulsing, shifting, restless shapes,
with twigs or fingers, stings or feathers, 
all struggling towards a brief immortality.
Under the silenced memories 
where Susannah lay buried
he uncovered the tangled grandeur 
of the web of lives that cradle us.

This post has no photo, instead there’s a link to the Natural History Museum’s entry on the megatherium

Anne Bryan


More than 20 years ago I took my first grandchild to Cardiff Castle. We enjoyed walking in the grounds, Carys loved the peacocks showing off their beautiful feathers. As we went home on the bus I felt pleased and satisfied to have shown her something lovely she’d never seen before but when we got home she unsettled me by showing me a snail through her baby eyes, which were naturally still unclouded by conventional judgements.   

Isn’t He Lovely
She was almost three 
but she’d never seen
a peacock spread out 
his shimmering tail  
‘Isn’t he lovely’ I said.
At home in the garden
she echoed my words, 
the exact tone of voice -
‘Isn’t he lovely’, she said.
So I gazed at the snail 
as he flowed along
on a trail of slime
with his horns pointing up 
and his horns pointing down
and his shell on his back 
all spiralled and etched.
Should I say he’s disgusting 
I hate him to bits
for the way that he munches 
my lettuce and beans?
I looked at the child. 
Should I tell her the facts?
Could I tell her the truth?
‘Isn’t he lovely’ I said.

A snail or slug isn’t simply a slump of shapeless flesh encased in slime, these animals have needs and desires.  There’s a short video of two hermaphrodite leopard slugs following each other and then coiling themselves together in a glowing sexual encounter at You may feel you’d really rather not watch slugs having sex just now but don’t be afraid, the narration is provided by David Attenborough, whose soothing voice never says it’s bizarre or weird, his expert narration isn’t disturbed by such judgements Maybe he’s so old and has seen so much that he’s gone beyond bothering with conventional responses.   

There are around 85,000 species of molluscs; many of them with shells, but some, like octopus, without. They are found on land, in the sea and in intertidal zones all over the world. More at

I belong to the Cardiff Museum Writers; we meet at the museum (online since lockdown) to look at objects or exhibitions that might spark our imagination. Cardiff Museum has the second largest collection of molluscs in the UK and in 2016 we were lucky enough to be taken behind the scenes by Curator Harriet Wood and shown some of the museum’s awesome collection of molluscs. Harriet put up a blog which recorded our visit and the work it inspired which you can find at

In our lovely writers group there are no prescriptions or rules, we are free to respond in any way that comes into our head. I enjoyed making an absurd attempt to gather the immense diversity of molluscs into the 14 lines of a sonnet.

I shall not praise a single slug or snail,
this is a poem for molluscs of all sorts:
for those on land that glide on slimy trails
and those that live on sea beds, mud or rocks;  
molluscs with shells that twirl to left or right,
that feed with toothsome tongues or kill their prey
with poison darts. I praise all molluscs bright
as butterflies or coloured ghastly grey, 
sweet juicy mussels, cockles hard as stones,
cowries, colossal squid and octopus, 
winkles, limpets, argonauts and tritons,
all charm me with their fearful otherness.
No net of words can capture them, I found,
before, in undiscovered seas, I drowned. 
Anne Bryan                            


As I look out today the sun is covered in clouds yet again and my mood sinks as the rain comes down. I can’t change the weather so maybe I should try and think about the clouds in a different way. 

There are many types of cloud, stratus, cirrus, cumulus and more, you can look at them all at

This photograph of clouds was taken last month at the pebble beach at Cold knap, Barry, looking over the Bristol Channel to the Somerset Coast.

The science of clouds is fascinating and so are the heavenly stories, I still remember the God I got to know in Sunday School around 75 years ago and who spoke to Moses from a cloud.

I won’t elaborate on God and heaven in the clouds as you can read an excellent article on cloud symbolism in Christianity by Creighton Lovelace, Pastor of Danieltown Baptist Church in Forest City, North Carolina, who is also a member of the Cloud appreciation Society. His entertaining look at biblical clouds is at

I thought I’d left my Sunday school idea of God behind me long ago but someone rather like him seems to have sneaked his way into my poem.

The engineer said - I will design 
machines to be perfectly matchless -each one
will have the same function but none 
will be identical - for my imagination is boundless
and incorporates hydrostatics, hydrodynamics 
and the physics of surface tension.
Sometimes my inventions will swirl like the tails
of a thousand milk white mares - swim
across the sky like a shoal of shining mackerel -fly 
though the air immaculate as swans - skip 
over the horizon as lively as a hare. My devices 
will be ribbons that entwine the mountain tops - sail 
like ocean liners trailing wisps of steam. 
Sometimes my equipment will hang 
over the heads of men as heavy as the bellies
of grey celestial cows, their udders dripping onto the earth.
Often words and images will fail to circumscribe
the endless variation of my tremendous 
flights of fancy. People will christen 
my contrivances with Latin appellations -
stratus, cumulus and cirrus. They will describe 
my designs as lonely or dark, be overwhelmed
by the deluge I release but dance 
fervent prayers entreating the delivery 
of the precious cargo carried by my contraptions.
I am the Heavenly Engineer, 
I float across the heavens dripping my creations 
onto the earth. Although each dribble
is lost in the fall each drop will rise again 
in mist and sap and blood.
To try to demonstrate that I can write a poem about clouds which is not permeated by the misty shade of a deity here’s a short poem that features a cloud that is the lowest of the low and which can make us feel as lonely and lost as it’s possible to be but which is, like all clouds, truly amazing.
                   IN A FOG
hidden among the trees I’m all wrapped up
in a misty cocoon the fog is so heavy it fails
to hold itself together and liquifies
on the twigs and tiny drops fall on my hair
and on the ground and there is silence except 
for the sound of small erratic drips in this interval
between the amniotic fluid and the fall
into the moisture of the earth to flow
through streams and oceans uplifted again and again 
into mist and clouds and astonishing fog

Anne Bryan


I’m doing things differently in this blog and starting with a photo.

This shadowy path was captured earlier this month and shows the blackthorn blossom in full bloom and the celandines brilliant in the sunshine. In the middle of the picture in the distance there’s a seat, that’s really important now I’m old. I really look forward to reaching somewhere I can rest near the end of the walk. While the earth is bursting into life Covid19 controversies are flourishing in the media, one of the latest is on end of life care. 

Naturally everyone would like good care at the end of life but what is good? Is it good to resuscitate people near the end of their lives? When would it be good to put away the crash trolley and simply provide good palliative care and support? There’s useful information on end of life care at  but in the end what anyone feels about these difficult questions will depend on their circumstances, experiences and beliefs.

It’s easier to provide good end of life care if everyone knows what the dying person feels, and a personalised advance decision, often known as a living will, can make this clear. There are many options to choose from at

I’ve also written a living will poem to try and express feelings that can’t be conveyed in the legalistic prose of an advance decision. 

Before my heart began to beat
in the secret darkness
of my mother’s womb,
death began to shadow me
like a hawk with hungry eyes 
hovering above a hill.
So if I see him dive for me
then Doctor help me dodge him 
and I’ll trust you with my life.
I’ll follow your instructions,
and promptly bare my body 
for the scalpel’s expert touch
or the cunning killing rays 
that penetrate my flesh,
I’ll swallow any medicine
that helps me cling to life.
But if I’m mired in fatal weakness
and my sadly tangled neurones
get me snarled in thorny thickets 
of amnesia and confusion,
can I trust you with my death?
Can you bravely put aside
all your hi-tech wizardry,
give me tender remedies,
soothe me with some poppy juice, 
give me comfort and relief,
help me welcome death’s embrace,
for he’ll kill my final grief,
and though he’ll scatter all my atoms
each will be absorbed again
into the secret darkness
of earth’s abundant womb

Anne Bryan

PS I couldn’t resist adding the daisies.


What’s new this month? The lockdown continues, many people work at home in their pyjamas; clothing shops close or are sold to online retailers, fashion sales are down.

Clothes will never go out of fashion though, they’ve been part of human life since we lived alongside the Neanderthals. Much creative imagination and hard slog has gone into preparing, spinning, weaving, dyeing and sewing body coverings using threads collected from animals, plants or insects and, more recently, synthesised by scientists. 

The Bible tells us not give too much thought to clothes.  ‘Consider the lilies of the field’ the text goes ‘they toil not, neither do they spin, and yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.’ 

More than 1000 years after this text was written a textile was discovered in a settlement on the edge of Llangors Lake. Made of finely woven linen with silk embroidery, it shows how much toil went into clothing high status individuals in the 10th century. Today, more than 1000 years later, designing and making clothes is a vast industry that Solomon could never have imagined. 

Humans don’t only cover themselves to keep warm, the clothes we wear also express our individuality, social connections and pretensions and King Solomon’s robes would have been designed to promote his status.

As I wondered if humans were the only animals which construct body coverings the small streams of my childhood came rushing into my memory. Caddis fly larvae walked on the stream beds in coverings made of small stones or bits of vegetation woven together with silk. These coverings are constructed for protection and camouflage rather than display but the insects certainly toil and spin to make them.

Here are two images of caddis fly larvae from the web site . Thank you Jan Hamrsky for permission to use these wonderful photographs. 

Case-building caddisfly larva (Trichoptera) 

Case-building caddisfly larva (Trichoptera) 

The caddis larvae cocoon themselves in their coverings as they pupate, emerging as winged insects to mate and lay eggs on plants at the water’s edge. When the eggs hatch the larvae fall into the water.

These insects are found almost everywhere and I wondered if King Solomon would have remembered caddis larvae as part of his childhood experiences of the wonders of the world. Might he have recognised his kinship with these extraordinary insects.  Unlikely, I thought, he’d probably have been too busy trying to transform his naked body into a symbol of power and glory with the most fabulous clothes that could be woven in his kingdom. 

That’s enough of Solomon, it’s time now for a caddis fly to give her testimony.

The Caddis Fly’s Testament 
In the beginning was the fall.
I plunged into the remorseless 
swirling water and knew at once
I was perilously naked. 
I swathed my infant self with silk 
and fragments from the river bed.
I wove a fitting cloak as I grew fat 
and then, shrouded in secrecy,
my body was transfigured. 
I rose on heavenly wings
to mark the tangled weeds
with eggs before I fall again.
In the fish’s belly I become
part of its flesh and of the dung
that feeds the golden iris
rising from the muddy shore,
its seeds poised to testify:
in the beginning is the fall.

Anne Bryan


I write this a few days after the 17 day Welsh lockdown came to an end and the English 4 week lockdown began. Even when the lockdowns end it won’t be business as usual, travel will be restricted, the wonders of the Serengeti Plains or the Galapagos Islands with still be out of reach, so it’s back to looking at the small everyday things around us. Here’s a very small thing I noticed on a walk to the corner shop: a poppy flowering in a tangle of spent flower stalks in a roadside flower bed which has been a riot of wild flowers all summer.  I picked the poppy and put it in a vase as it would have been awkward to crouch down at the roadside to photograph it and also difficult to show the scarlet flower and the pepper-pot seed head among the tangle of dead stalks. 

November Poppy

I can’t decide whether to see this unexpected poppy blossoming in November as a relic of last summer or a promise of next summer or a reminder of Armistice Day on 11th November 1918; the day World War One ended. Poppies grow best in disturbed soil and they flourished on the churned-up battlefields. Soon after the warended poppies became the symbol of remembrance.  

Today’s battle is against the Covid19 virus. A vaccine looks promising, we can hear the toot of the cavalry’s bugles but will they get here in the new year as hoped, and will they put up a good fight when they arrive? It’s uncertain, but almost everything about life is uncertain; the only thing we can be certain of is that we’ll all die sooner or later, like everything else that is alive.  

It’s also certain that for millions of years life has bloomed in unexpected ways in the wake of death, and this natural succession has given the world antelopes and bananas, chimanzees and dandelions, elephants and frogs, groundsel and hyaenas, ichthyosaurs and juniper, koalas and lice, marigolds and newts, oysters and poppies.


I admire the poppies
their heads nodding in the breeze, 
crimson petals falling
now and then.

I envy them their heads 
full of nothing but seeds. 
the poppies whisper to me 
as they shake their heads,
‘seeds are not nothing, 
seeds are everything’.

When the poppy heads have died
the seeds are primed to explode 
in glorious profusion
on the ground furrowed by artillery shells, 
in the mud churned by the hooves 
of terrified horses and fertilised 
by the bodies of the dead.

The poppies would give thanks 
for the unspeakable carnage 
if only their heads were not full
of nothing but seeds 
(which are everything of course).

I salute the poppies 
whose innocent petals
bleed painlessly into the ground;
they carry no knowledge of terror and tears 
but their nodding heads
are ready to burst into the future
with a salvo of small black seeds.

Anne Bryan