Herb Garden

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I

I was given a herb garden last night,
and needed to plant it straight away,
pushing seeds in the dark,
the packets crackling in the black under the stairs,
my toes stained by tea-leaves,
poked and lit by dead
matches and milk bottle tops.

II

There was an earthbank in a muddy creek
covered with pennyroyal.
In summer we could reach it — would stretch out like water bugs
on its tearing canopy
and drugged by the smell of musk
would sink, wanting to sleep.

III

Our French mistress of the yellow skin
can tell us almost nothing;
sitting through the stiff afternoon
we hear of her year in France,
her visit to Chartres Cathedral —
‘… and inside, saints and devils,
with robes pleated and firm as angelica …’
Our separate yearnings bump and knock
filling the classroom …
I go, we go, we shall be going —
leaving you, odourless and dry teacher of languages,
for damp under the lemon, mosquitoes,
compost heaps rotting and steaming
heavily in the thick evening.

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