The cram of stars in the navy-night
blue-light of summer solstice.
The majestic zodiac sprawled
across the ever-stretching sky.
Ancient definitions of myth
star-stories of pre-determined fate
mapped in the moment and place
of our birthing; such fantasies
such imaginings of stellar systems
and mankind’s significance.
Heavens and humours; rules and rights
from Gods to kings and subjects
All settled in an ordered Universe
until, curiosity, ingenuity and invention
observation and record, rigor and Science
with its license to question freedom.
I think of Poplar and education.
At my primary school the entire perimeter was huge old Poplar trees. In England, ehen we started school in September the autumn was starting and their rich, sweet-mulchy, succulent scent of fallen leaves was unforgettable. Then, by Christmas time the bare sentinels stood all around us, reaching plaintively to the sky. I was little and they were huge and strong and made me feel utterly safe in that ‘campus’ world. This was a huge school before shonky politicians sold off our free recreation land to greedy developers. Our school had two sets of buildings with quadrangles, one each for the Infant & Primary Schools as well as the Dining Rooms (we had school dinners at lunch time then); the gardeners’ buildings (for equipment & tea room) and lots of other small buildings (for all the PE equipment etc) were dotted around a small back road meandering into the school. One was where we littlies met for Animal Defenders Club (early bird RSPCA). We even had an on-site Caretaker, Mr Fox – appropriately red-haired and burly, and his family living in a two story house at the back entrance, next to the Basingstoke Road gates. Our ‘playing fields’ were vast and we had courtyard play areas in the stone pillared quads, as well as a vast playground on the western side, covered in tarmac. Where we were allowed to ‘play’ was determined by time of day: courtyards for morning tea break and season. Summer meant piles of mown grass to play with and create. As young architects we drew grass-lined walls of our imaginary castles & houses. The Poplars in summer were fluttering, glimmering towers of every green-jewelled light,; the shimmering backdrop to everything, their scent fresh and strong.
The next time I came across my beloved Poplars was at the University of Adelaide, half a world away from Reading, Berkshire. Next to Bonython Hall, there they were in all their splendour. When autumn came, I made a point of trudging on the leaves to press out the smell of my childhood. I loved the colour and the kick in the leaves.
But now they are gone, replaced by low flying, pretty blossom trees in clusters amid the bricked walkways. I think the reason is these trees flower just in time for graduation photos and allow the vast number of overseas students to each find a little tree and having no overhead light problems, take the perfect photo. The area had no shade from any angle, just beating, heating sun and brick shimmer. I’m sure someone in authority would say “But Poplars are disruptive – invasive”
There is only one large tree remaining on the entire North Terrace frontage of the University, the one last Morton Bay Fig tree. But I’m sure the Marketing Department will work out a way to down that one soon…
© M.L.Emmett 2016
In the moonlight, high in the Lemon Gum,
perched under the arching ghostly branches,
two eyes of jet peer from a snow-white mask.
Tyto Alba, the Barn Owl, with heart shaped
facial disc, edged with ruff of stiff feathers.
Mottled pearl-grey body feathers above
the moth like plumage, purest white beneath;
her slim legs are bare on the lower half,
with small feet that end with deadly talons.
Nocturnal, she roosts in the heat of day.
You will hear her screeching in the cold night,
hear the scream before you ever see her.
She can see in the half light of humans,
night vision even in total darkness;
pinpoints her prey by listening to each sound
the desperate, scuttling little creatures make.
She is a well designed killing machine
with hooked beak, powerful feet and sharp claws.
Her flight feathers have softened edges
to make her deadly flight near soundless
She swoops silently down without warning,
seizing victims with her claws, biting deep
into their neck arteries, puncturing
their most precious organs for a quick death.
Harsh wind screaming
with biting crisp of Autumn night
in dark branches of bare grey Elms
Lanes are winding
in pale peach-orange headlight glow
edging lit limits of darkness
All power-cut night
strange silhouettes caught in the beam
No distant farm lights in fields or on Tor
no guiding beacons to navigate place
openness, emptiness stretching before
no definitions to recognise space
Cottages shudder their thatches
chimneys smoke message-morse
On ledges weak candles flicker
rounded glass glimmer patterns
Pub signs beat rhythms while swinging
wildly in wind-crazy dance
Steeple bell dull dreary ringing
riding on wind to the copse
And still the lanes loop and drift out
ribbons of pebbles and stone
Roads unfurling into the night
surface and space in to one
Finally fading back to black
to motorway flat tarmac.