Carolyn King

(for Phyllida)

"Even sparrows are freed
from all fear of man –
England in the Spring" – Haiku by Takahama Kyoshi (1874-1959)
                                                 (trans. Bownas)

Under the wild-rose pergola, I admire her very English garden;
and she, having trained at Kew long ago (while I was sowing
the seeds of poems), remembers Kyoshi’s haiku inscribed on a stone
beside the Japanese Gateway - and that Spring afternoon of rainbows

a flutter of oriental poets, painted ladies
dainty as porcelain miniatures wrapped in silk kimonos, arrived
to unveil the words; and how it rained as they reached the Pagoda,
and such a twittering filled the air (like a flock of startled sparrows)

as parasols rose to the task of umbrellas
and workers attending the ceremony were urged to take shelter
under the floral canopies raised as high as their wings could contrive
by the poet’s daughter and her butterfly train;

while fiery sake warmed the rain-soaked gardeners (unaware
of its reputation and unaccustomed to anything stronger than ale)
till they tippled and toppled their way across the neat, hoed borders –
wondering later why they didn’t remember much about the occasion.

                                     * * * * *

Kyoshi himself had visited Kew in ‘36 – merely three years before war
tore the innocent heads from so many promising blooms.
Cockney ‘sparrers’ endured the Blitz; the haiku gestated;
London lay dreaming of gathering lilacs in the Spring.

                                     * * * * *

Many moons now since they finished the spadework –
raking over the battle-scars, dead-heading the roses;
sweeping up fallen cherry blossoms – pink as the dawn
or white as the powdered faces of geisha.

Sparrows and lilacs,
Oriental Charm and Peace:
Phyllida’s garden
Footnote: “Oriental Charm” and “Peace” are two of the many varieties of roses..

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