In Defiance of Short Days, Patricia Ace
People as plants, and plants as people
In Scotland, the days get dramatically shorter in autumn. The light shrinks. Human beings feel the diminution, of course, but perhaps plants feel it more.
What caught my attention in this slender collection was the way plants are as central as people. This is true from ‘Kitchen Garden, Thanjavur, Late Afternoon’ (the opening poem) to the concluding poem (‘Growth’):
I sit at my desk
coaxing the seeds
of my thoughts
into tender shoots
Another powerful piece, ‘Amaryllis’, is an exuberant celebration of an extraordinary plant, and one of its key phrases makes it the title poem:
All winter you bloomed,
your fiery throat eating the dark.
In defiance of short days
and long nights
you trumpeted, tomato-bright,
through January’s gloom.
How could you read this and not want your own amaryllis? Certainly, addressing the plant in the second person (‘Hydra-like, you sprouted’) conveys admiration and tenderness — the relationship with the plant is uncompromisingly personal — even passionate.
Meanwhile, in the poet’s own intimate human relationship, two people (in ‘Close’) are compared to an onion waiting for ‘a stretch of daylight’. The vegetable metaphor, two in one, is intense, and curiously moving. What might have been an ordinary double-bed blurs into a garden setting, a bed of earth:
Curled like this, in bed,
like two new shoots
from the papery head
of a dark-skinned bulb
or the top-knot
of a softening onion.
Just as emotively, ‘The Whispering Wood’ describes a sapling planted in memory of a much loved father. But although his ashes were scattered nearby, the tree has ‘failed to thrive’. In this poem, when the poet refers to the ailing tree as ‘you’, it is absolutely clear that tree and father have become one and the same person/plant:
All we can do is wait for spring,
better weather, brighter days.
Mum takes secateurs, prunes
the dead wood, gently as you’d
trim a baby’s fingernails.
Copies available from the author at patriciaace[at]hotmail.com (those of you who are not robots will know to replace the 'at' in brackets with the usual symbol).