beyond Goosegog Bush,
we crunch cola cubes
and dangle like catkins
in sharp-toothed leaves.
Lighter than cuckoo spit
and woozy on crew cut lawn,
we pinwheel through wicker
until our socks scuff sage
or we hear your Dinner! rap on glass.

In the twist of our willow

~ in the moss and the muck ~
we wonder:
are you watching now?

GEMMA CANTELO | Willow | Kiamarie, Elstree

What is a willow?

A willow is the Moses basket that carried me home. The bedtime stories of badger, toad, ratty and mole.

A willow is the trunk of threadbare towels in the corner of the bathroom. The hand-me-down doll on the bedroom shelf.

A willow is the cane they banned before I went to school. The thwack of cricket on a pavilion lawn.

Bend the willow while it is young.

A willow is the wicker filled with apples and ham sandwiches. The trailing fronds catching poosticks by the bridge.

A willow is the whispering of elves in the forest. The wand casting water spells for priestesses and ancient gods.

A willow is the trap that catches evil spirits by the door. The Druid’s offering and the wood I knock for luck.

A willow is the tree strung with harps on the banks of Babylon. The exile of our ancestors and the bitter salve of longing.

How shall we sing the Lord’s song in this strange land?

A willow is the raft we build to cross a stormy sea. The net I cast to catch our feast of fishes. 

A willow is the cabin in the woods. The hold of a wattle and daub home filled with woodsmoke. 

A willow is the paper smudged with charcoal that you hung above the fire. The fence I wove to mark this place as ours. 

I will be the willow on your bedside.

A willow is the bend and twang of Cupid’s bow. The forsaken lover, drowning like Ophelia in the pond.

A willow is the name I hear in the rustling of the leaves. The ghost trapped by a woodcutter’s greed.

A willow is the church pew on which we rest our grief. The casket, lined with cotton, that turns to dust.

A willow is the broom that sweeps your tomb. The pills and potions that soothe my ache.

Sleep not under the willow tree for she weeps many tears.

A willow is the deep root that holds the shore. The lapping of the lake and the cycles of the moon.

A willow is the early nectar that closes winter. The green shoot springing from the stump.

A willow is the catkin fur that makes my nose itch. The shade at the bottom of my grandparents’ garden. 

“Can you live without the willow tree? Well, no, you can’t. The willow tree is you.”

[Final quote: The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck]