When I was a child I spent a lot of time sitting with a gardener in his shed as it rained. He'd been to Africa, and talked about the places and plants and animals there. In my mind they got caught up with the contents of his shed; with their equally exotic names. A fascination with sound marks out poetry; the sound of words, and the objects it creates in the imagination. This poem from thirty years later, enacts that.
In The Tool Shed
‘Hummingbirds’ he said, and spat. Winged tongues
hovered in the half-light of their names;
cat, cobra, cockatoo rose hissing from that juice.
Piece-time in Africa, amid the terrapins
and jerrycans! Steam swirled above the Congo
of his cup, mangrove-rooted fingers plugged the air –
‘Baboons? You hae to look them in the eye.’ Birds
of paradise! Parrots, paraffin, parakeets
flashed blue and raucous
through thickets of swoe, scythe, riddle, adze.
He sat bow-backed and slack in the dark
heart of his kingdom – creator, guide,
in that jungle of sounds, boxes, cloches, canes,
twine, twill, galoshes, jumbled all
across, through, and over one another
from roof to floor, prowled by those fabled carnivores,
the jaguar! The secataurs! Elephants lean
patiently on their ponderous name.
They come in clutches: azaleas, zebras, Zambesi.
Orchids, oranges, oran-utangs hang
from their common O. Lemming, gorilla, lynx
slink nose to tail through mango groves,
drenched in this sibilant monsoon: moonstone, machetes,
peacocks, paw-paws, lepers, leopards –
the walls are creaking but hold them all
in that dark continent between the ears.
Easy, easy genesis! Old witchdoctor, gardener,
deity of the shed, I grew that garden
from his words, caught the fever
pitch of his Niagara; I follow still
an Orinoco in his blue forearm veins
that beat among the talking drums
of all those childhood afternoons.
from This Life, This Life: New and Selected Poems 1976-2006 (Bloodaxe, 2006), © Andrew Greig, 2006, used by permission of the author and the publisher