Beside the Friendly Potato: THIRD PRIZE

by Mandy Pannett

He spends a long time in his garden
planting things intended for a season
that he loathes. The poet got it right,
he thinks, spot on about the cruelties
of Spring
. He trims away the weeds
around the bush. What plans they’d had
for growing fruit – talked for hours
of blueberries, raspberries, even quince.
She saw herself as early blackbird, gathering
berries in a trug, cooking jam in heavy saucepans,
keeping it in pretty jars
for gifts.

In the end they settled on redcurrant:
thought they’d see how it would grow.
It grows alright, he muttered –
bitter, sour.

He’d tried to rear some vegetables
the weeks before she died, wondering if
nutritious soup might boost her spirits and perhaps –
this was his dream – somehow
restore her health.

Now the unfilled jam jars gather flies upon the shelf
while vegetation rots along the floor.

So is it time to take the junk
to jumble sales and buy in polish, stuff
for windows, let in traces
of a friendly light?

Friendly – that’s another word, he thinks,
meaningless and clichéd like The Spring.
They’d all been round at first, his neighbours,
offering help and consolation;
none of it had lasted
very long.

There’s more comfort in potatoes
someone whispers in his ear.
They make fine gifts for kindly neighbours,
fresh potatoes bagged up in their earth.

Well there’s a plan of sorts for us,
he tells the blackbird on the fence.
You and I will move her currants –
do much better with some compost, taste a whole lot
sweeter, over there, that sunny patch
beside the friendly potato.

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