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.
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. https://www.discoveringbelgium.com/the-poppies-of-flanders/
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.