Poetry: Botanic Gardens

Botanic Gardens

Two couples strolling in the Gardens Buttoned-up in overcoats Against a bright November sun. Beyond where they walk on the stony path There are the stains of footmarks across The morning-wet grass: primary school Children, freed for the day, Complete with clipboards and sandwiches, Can feel the dew seeping through Their scuffed shoes. Beyond the lawn A regiment of trees stands, shades of red and yellow Against a cloudless blue. It feels Like a kind of paradise. And yet …

They were entirely oblivious of me – The two women in advance of their men, Both, bright and chattering like sparrows, Their voices full of a life Their husbands could not share. The two men shuffled behind, wordless, taking Slow mournful steps on the whitened gravel, Their heads stooped, eyes blankly dead, No longer stirred by memory.

Later, at the café, I sat outside, Warmed by the low autumn sun, Watching the three figures waiting For the fourth, the women still bright, Full of life and hope and words, That tumbled from them like water. The lone man stood apart, for all the world Like a tousled Lear. In time his companion re-appeared, Silent still, his eyes full of fear at being entirely lost, His big boots scuffing the stones.

Now, now! There could be no more standing, Just waiting. It was time to take them home. One woman busied herself, tidying her man With fond impatience. She tucked his scarf Tighter around his scrawny neck, Smoothed his coat, as if he were a boy again, Off to catch the bus to school, in those distant days Before the years of forgetfulness.

Richard Knott has written several books of modern history, notably The Sketchbook War and, most recently, Posted in Wartime. His book The Secret War Against the Arts is to be published next year. He is also working on his first collection of poetry. He lives in Somerset.