A family on the edge of the Heath: the mother patrols the bogs
collecting sphagnum moss and spiders’ webs to bandage the children
who run to her from their wild freewheeling with friends from Asia
around the bombsite archipelago they inhabit. The forces of many centuries
muster beyond the bottom of her garden at the barracks wall.
She knows the uses of marigold to comfort the heart, and coltsfoot for the chest.
Eyes she will bathe in elder, and the ears fill with mullein oil.
She understands she must not pick the thunder flower. The father
stays attentive to his patch of land and seldom roams. He likes
to grow brussels sprouts and cut their stems to dry and varnish
into a walking stick for walks he will not take. He does not like
the kind of friends his children have made. He listens to their shouts
and to his wife grinding pestle into mortar or laying a dressing
across a bruised limb. The birds that hang above his vegetables
he knows by name. He feeds Robin. Curses the collared doves.
offers a beer to slugs. Puts down human hair against rabbits.
John Greening A Cholmondeley winner, his recent books are To the War Poets (Carcanet), an anthology about composers, Accompanied Voices (Boydell) and an edition of Edmund Blunden’s Undertones of War (OUP). A collaboration with Penelope Shuttle, Heath, appears in 2016 from Nine Arches. ‘The sequence is set on Hounslow Heath, on the edge of London, where Heathrow Airport is now situated; it was famously the resort of highwaymen and considered in earlier times the most dangerous ten square miles in England. Penny and I were brought up on opposite sides of this now largely imaginary heath.”