I’m pleased to have another small story, ‘Snowdrops’, on Paragraph Planet today. Paragraph Planet publishes a daily story; no line breaks are allowed, all writing is presented in one small paragraph and must be of exactly 75 words, including the title.
However, when I started writing ‘Snowdrops, I wasn’t sure if it was a line poem, prose poem or short fiction. I’m still not sure today so I’ve written it both as a piece of flash fiction (published on Paragraph Planet and here) and, slightly altered, as a line poem, included at the end of this post.
Snowdrops. In the time it takes to find my reading glasses, Enid next door has died and the garden below my bedroom window has been landscaped. Forty years of cocoa with the evening news hide timidly in a skip, embarrassed by the nightie Enid wanted nobody to see her in. Spring arrives and a little girl swings, back and forth, singing. Snowdrops, crocuses, then daffodils push beneath her feet, waving up to me, calling a small "You-hoo!"
The initial idea came from one of my own workshops at Trowbridge Museum which you can read about here. The contemplation of time passing was a central theme of the poems I’d selected for this workshop. In particular, we’d read Robin Robertson’s ‘About Time’ (from ‘The Wrecking Light’). The first stanza is:
In the time it took to hold my breath
and slip under the bathwater
– to hear the blood-thud in the veins,
for me to rise to the surface –
my parents had died,
the house had been sold and now
was being demolished around me,
wall by wall, with a ball and chain.
I used this poem as a prompt for participants to write their own ‘About Time’ poem. Some ideas for first lines were “In the time it took for the bus to arrive” and “In the time it took to find my reading glasses”. I always try to write with participants when I’m running a workshop, so I used the ‘reading glasses’ line and wrote in my notebook:
In the time it took to find my reading glasses
my neighbours had died
the duck egg blue wallpaper that Mary had told me made her feel happy
was in the skip.
Little children trampled over her lettuces
Her tomato plants had grown straggly
From these rough, first lines, I developed my poem/story. I was trying to write about time passing, and ageing, and about the way that lives collide; how we achieve an unsatisfactory intimacy with neighbours, living so close but never fully knowing them, although we might share intimate spaces. And I have always found something heartless and unforgiving about an industrial skip out on a street, overflowing with the previous owners’ belongings, their lives laid bare for all to see.
With the poem, I had the luxury of being able to go over the 75 word limit, so was able to include a title which aims to encompass the poignancy of a person planting bulbs whose flowers they will never see bloom. It also acknowledges my own mortality. Some flowering bulbs flourish year after year – they do in my garden – regardless of the incompetence, the disrespect, really, of the gardener; small reminders of gentle people who are no longer with us.
Ordering from the Flower Catalogue
In the time it takes to find my reading glasses
Enid next door has died
and the garden below my bedroom window
has been landscaped. Forty years of cocoa
with the evening news hide
timidly in a skip, embarrassed by the nightdress
Enid wanted nobody to see her in.
Spring arrives and a little girl swings
back and forth, singing. Snowdrops, crocuses
then daffodils push beneath her feet,
waving up to me, calling
a small “You-hoo!”