Celebrating the turning of the seasons this week we’re ‘bringing the may’ with a selection from Paul Evans’ extremely enjoyable new book of ‘audacious botany’ featuring illustrations by Kurt Jackson.
Out this week from Little Toller, Herbaceous is a book that explores our imaginative relationship with flowers in ways that are quite startling and often as mysteriously compelling as the flowers themselves.
From all of us at The Clearing, Happy May Day!
Water comes to this dark place out of sorrow. In
the pool under broken alders, a chieftain of the Old
North was killed in battle and his head carried on a
stick away from where Tern meets Severn to high
ground in the west. ‘Usual is the wind from the
east,’ usual for a proud man and a thrush among
thorns and the outcry against oppression, ‘usual
for crows to find flesh in a nook.’ Unusual is gold
fallen in mud to rise into the air and, through the
river fog, sing for our eyes.
He drove this way a long time ago, on the Roman
road which linked remote parts of the Empire. She
sat beside him, with her son in the back seat of the
big old Humber, and she twitched and mumbled,
clutching a bunch of moon daisies, dog daisies, ox-
eye daisies, (same difference). He can’t remember
now why but he had a responsibility to get the
boy’s poor mad mother to a place of safety. She
kept shoving the flowers in his face as if he must
acknowledge them, see and smell them to know
what she knew about the spell or curse the howling
daisies held but she couldn’t say it in words. He
had to keep pushing her hand away so he could see
Newly widened, the road now cuts across the
lie of the land, its banks planted for magpies and
plastic. All the way from an archipelago of mini-
roundabouts to the Snack Van lay-by, ten thousand
ox-eyes watch the vroom of traffic. British daisies
open skyward, cheerfully gormless, but these bend
their gaze to the ground because they are a Balkan
subspecies of the vulgar Leucanthemum picked
for the lycanthrope: white flowers for Olga the
Loose clouds, cables strung across the plain and
the road all travel east. A skylark lands on a fence
post and another, a stone’s throw away, climbs into
the sky, singing. Skipper butterflies feed on gold. A
ditch running from the fields under the road carries
the dark slick of an ancient marsh. A lost village
hides under the mound of trees. Other secrets –
the cremation cemetery, the stone-blade place and
Gallows Nooking – have been re-abandoned under
ash and poplar roots. Life is ploughed out of the
rest of this landscape and any return is forbidden.
In the lay-by, Olga plucks at the white paper
napkin wrapping a sausage sandwich – ‘Воли ме . . .
не воли ме.’ She stares from the Snack Van’s hatch
at the moon rising above an embankment of moon
daisies, dog daisies, ox-eye daisies, the songs of
skylarks passing into a relentless forever.
 Llewarch Hen, ‘Usual is the Wind’, Red Book of Hergest VI (sixth century).
 Serbian, ‘he loves me… he loves me not.’