Three poems from Anne Osbourn’s first book of poetry, Mock Orange, published by SPM Publications in September 2020
My Mother, Age Thirteen
The cheap stench of privet
and Mrs Baldwin’s perfume,
as she pulls the lanky girl bosomwards
and cuddles her tight.
The girl knows she’s welcome
round there in the black-outs,
but dark men hide in Mrs Baldwin’s coal shed.
Mr Swithenbank on the other side
watches her skipping out back
over the waist-high hedge that looks onto
the handkerchief lawn.
He likes her long legs and curls.
Not much else to see yet.
Her father has drunk the money again.
All of Winnie’s wages, no leg of lamb for tea.
The deaf old bugger sits alone
at the head of his table,
king of all that he surveys.
Brawn, bread and butter.
He mutters at the wall.
Q & A with Margaret Atwood
Was she religious? She sang a mole hymn, read a section from a story that featured a dead character, ended on a poem about oil. She looked up at the audience slyly, often. Her interviewer, the worse for wear, succumbed, opened the floor for questions. Was she the writer in the burrow? No, that was Margaret. She was the other one; the one that went out. How did she know that string theory was dead? Her physicist nephew – he didn’t say much, but was willing to comment when asked about the universe. I was impressed by her breadth of knowledge, her thirst for fact and fiction. The interviewer was shifting. The session was about to close. I put up my hand. The last question. ‘Tell me’, I ask – ‘did you ever wish you had been a scientist?’ Oh, yes, I would have loved to have been a botanist. I paused. ‘I am a botanist.’ She looked right at me. Well, you must know about blue green algae. ‘I do.’ And stromatolites? ‘I once did a literature review on them.’ What are they, then? The impishness was always there. ‘Blue green algae and fungi living together in flat pancake-like layers, in warm water, places like Australia.’ And what is your area of research? The lecture theatre was silent. ‘I work on the chemicals made by plants – the scents, colours, flavours, drugs.’ That is very important. She nodded. And do you know what ‘stromatolite’ means? she asked, looking at the audience. It means stone mattress. She looked straight at me. And did you know that a piece of stromatolite is a very effective murder weapon?
Woburn Abbey – April 1939
Things are degenerating:
the collection has something to say.
Mirabilis likes being kept
pressed between the pages of a book
she says she’s reading.
Bog rosemary is ashamed on her behalf.
Tillandsia, still shaken by the voyage in 1784
has become withdrawn, mildewed.
The peonies keep showing themselves.
The grasses are loose,
the mosses are low.
The violets call a meeting, but
are overrun by wild strawberries.
The wallflowers sulk in a corner,
the daisies have made a chain.
Somewhere in the darkness
of a herbarium drawer
an orange is kissing
an apple to the core.
Dead nettle, surprised, stings.
Aspen trembles, poplar shivers, willows cry.
Ragwort worries. It is mock orange
who saves the day.
She gathers them under
her blossomed boughs, draws them close,
to her scented middle, settles
them down and says:
Now – let me tell you a story…