The Allotment above the City
by John W. Sexton
An aged mother walks the path to the allotment.
She carries her autistic son with her, sewn to her heart.
With her every heartbeat he dances in her breast;
she’s bruised to nothing from his dancing.
Red speck by red speck, ladybirds alight
on her shoulders and all down her back,
a collar and cloak of enamelled glistening.
An old man looks up from his row of cabbages
and offers her a thousand caterpillars.
“Accept this gift and save my garden,” he says.
He pours the caterpillars over her head
and they begin to spin silk.
Under her veil of silk and caterpillars,
with her collar and cloak of ladybirds,
she proceeds down the path.
Her son continues to dance,
dances a coagulating blood at her heart.
A young girl stands in her way where the path narrows.
In her cupped hands she holds a quivering jelly of frogspawn.
“Accept this gift and save me from unwanted births.”
She pours the frogspawn from her own cupped hands
and into the mother’s cupped hands.
The aged mother continues down the path.
The sky is tearing in the last of the sunlight.
The aged mother steps forth;
in her clothing of sacrifice she is ready for the dusk.
The child at her heart spins on his feet.
From the hedges the songbirds are singing her an answer;
they sing her the solution of her passage.
They sing her the route through the encroaching darkness.
But birdsong is a language beyond her.
At her heart her son is dancing himself loose,
the heart’s stitching is easing apart.
The aged mother stops - then with her teeth
she pulls the stitching tight;
for though beyond birdsong, she knows
that her son needs to be close to her always.
The birds sing her the knowledge she needs,
but love is the answer she finds in herself.
Carefully she continues to hold the frogspawn in her hands.
She will hold it until it is ready to be set free in the pond.
Dusk falls and then night falls on the allotment.
In the darkness the vegetable plots lie still,
forever beyond her, as useless as birdsong.
* * *
John W. Sexton lives in the Republic of Ireland and is the author of five poetry collections, the most recent being The Offspring of the Moon, which was published by Salmon Poetry in 2013. He created and wrote the science-fiction comedy-drama, The Ivory Tower, for RTÉ radio, which ran to over one hundred half-hour episodes from 1999 to 2002. Two novels based on the characters from this series have been published by the O’Brien Press: The Johnny Coffin Diaries and Johnny Coffin School-Dazed, which have been translated into both Italian and Serbian. Under the ironic pseudonym of Sex W. Johnston he has recorded an album with legendary Stranglers frontman, Hugh Cornwell, entitled Sons Of Shiva, which has been released on Track Records. He is a past nominee for The Hennessy Literary Award and his poem The Green Owl won the Listowel Poetry Prize 2007. In 2007 he was awarded a Patrick and Katherine Kavanagh Fellowship in Poetry. His poems are widely published and some have appeared in Apex, Danse Macbre, Dreams & Nightmares, The 2012 Dwarf Stars Anthology, Eye to the Telescope, Fur-Lined Ghettos, microcosms, The Mystic Nebula, The Pedestal Magazine, The 2012 Rhysling Anthology, Rose Red Review, Star*Line and Strange Horizons.
Where do you get the ideas for your poems?
Our pasts often inform how we think. I will try to articulate it by the following.
Over thirty years ago, at the age of 18, my brother Gerard and his friends thought that it would be a thrill if they stole a car. So that’s exactly what they did. In the excitement of drink and youth they tore through the night-time streets of London in a car they had taken from a pub carpark. It was to be the last thing my brother would ever do, for he died as a direct result of taking that car. The car also failed to survive the night, so in the cold calculations of matter, the sacrifice of each cancelled out the other.
My eldest son, Matthew, was also involved in some form of collision, of a nature unknown and unknowable, except that the vehicle in which he traveled was the womb of his mother. When our son Matthew finally emerged, he arrived in a world not his own. Being autistic, he found himself in this place of clamoring.
Pain is the special language we utilize in order to communicate with the godhead. We not only suffer in the universe, we suffer with the universe. Indeed, we suffer as the universe.
Poetry is a poor and imprecise language in which to articulate our struggles. But it is the only language a poet knows. Thus, in poetry, I speak to whoever might listen. I speak as loudly as I can, in this place of clamoring.