‘Living in a city is an artificial existence.
Lots of people never feel real soil under their feet,
see plants grow except in flowerpots,
or get far enough beyond the streetlights
to catch the enchantment
of a night sky studded with stars.’
— Native American quote
Can you believe he’d never seen a willow tree?
He asked me in his London accent what the catkins were.
I told him about Arctic regions
and the areas above the timberlines
of mountains where the smallest willows grow.
I had to tell him of interlacing root networks,
soft twigs, slender branches,
finely-toothed leaf edges.
I explained about the charcoal used for gunpowder,
the bitter bark’s tannin on leather—
wicker furniture, artificial limbs.
I made him memorise three hundred species
(Chinese, native North American)—
basket willow, weeping willow,
crack willow, black willow.
I brought him out to my pussy willow
grafted to an apple-tree bark.
I showed him the tiny kittens climbing the twigs,
plunged his toes into the dark, dry mud,
plucked the flower-clusters for him and stroked his skin
with the soft, white hair.
We danced around the tent of long, narrow leaves,
made love on a bed of catkins under pussy willow’s cover—
slowed the ghosts of hard London air in his lungs,
filled his eyes with earthy darkness.