Poetry by Maureen Wilkinson

Aunt Florrie's Forest

As a child I lived in a council flat in Peckham Rye, London, next door to my father's elder sister Florrie. She was unmarried and was to remain so, since her fiancee Albert, a serving seaman, had been killed in action at the end of the Second World War. After Albert's death Flo had his photograph greatly enlarged, hand tinted and framed, and this was to remain on her living room wall until she died in her late seventies. Sometimes she would talk about her lost love, tenderly touching his picture with her hand, so that her face was reflected in his glazed image, and it looked for a moment as if they were dancing together.

One of Aunt Florrie's hobbies was to grow miniature gardens in large bowls which she kept on the window sill of her flat. As a child I would often help her assemble these tiny worlds, adding mirror lakes and oceans, pebble shores and pathways, mosses and tiny plants.

Many years later I started growing trees from seed to plant on a patch of land I owned in Cornwall. On one occasion I ran out of seed trays and planted some eucalyptus gunni seeds in an old washing-up bowl, and this reminded me of my Aunt Florrie's sad story and of the miniaturized gardens she grew. Later I planted the small saplings in a circle together, and imagined them growing into sea-green woodland, a 'magic' place where the spirits of the couple might finally be reunited.

There is a picture associated with this poem in the 'Pictures with Poems' gallery.


Aunt Florrie's ForestMy Auntie Flo lived in the council flat
next-door to us; my father's dark-eyed sister
who never married, worked as a book clerk,
often wore purple, kept a photograph of her war-dead fiancee framed in glass,
enlarged, hand-tinted, on the chimney breast.
Sweet Albert, sailor-suited, lost at sea
beyond forever. Florrie, in three brave rooms,

close furnished as a nest, three storeys high,
lived on near Peckham Common. Red brick blocks
of flats as big as battle ships
set sail the surging tree-tops, day and night
while place stood still, and only time was ocean.

Flo anchored herself with two bowls of earth.
I watched as she made miniaturized gardens. One held a boat becalmed
in a stone harbour, while the other's fondling paths
pebbled through banks of moss and primrose trees
to where toy swans swam on a looking glass. As Aunt Flo worked
to trim and tidy, mirrors caught her breath
and transferred snapshots of her hands and eyes

to where glass Albert wasted for her smile
to flicker on the dark shine of his face.
Sometimes in pausing moments, close as leaves
they passing pressed, as if somewhere between
the gossamer of light and its reflection, they were dancing.

Earth sings to earth. Today, sowing these seeds
of eucalyptus gunni, blue gum tree, I thought of them, as if the spinning days
might conjure holograms of form and voice
into a meeting, and a meeting place.

These twenty-five black fragments in my palm,
are in my wish her woods. I compact earth,
sprinkle on water and vermiculite.
Already in my head I am giant-high
enough to lift a forest in a bowl
outside, to where there is a ripe, round space,
between my sapling birches and young oaks
and make a meeting, and a meeting place
where Florrie's trees can net the constant sky
with leaves like sea-green fingers.

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