Poem introduction

The visit that I made to the British Army camp at Bad Fallingbostel in spring of 2014, was taken to speak to British soldiers who'd very recently returned from fighting in Afghanistan. They were almost the last British soldiers out of Afghanistan, and the plan was to make a radio programme, using my conversations with them as the basis for poems, which is indeed what's happened. I also talked to one or two people associated with the soldiers back here in Blighty, including the mother, Margaret Evison, of Mark Evison, who was killed out there in Afghanistan - actually who, more strictly speaking, was shot out there in Afghanistan and his body was brought back to England while he was still alive just about, the idea being that he might be patched up and allowed to live. But that didn't work; he died. So this is an elegy for Captain Mark Evison based on my conversation with his mother. I think it should pretty well explain itself, except perhaps I can mention just a couple of things: one is that she happened to say in the middle of her conversation with me, very long conversation, that she'd watched the telly at some point during her grieving and had watched a programme about reindeer in the wilderness, and she also told me that after the death of her son she'd gone for the first time to Afghanistan to see the landscape in which he'd briefly fought and in which he had been wounded. When I listened to the transcript of our conversation and when listening to the tapes again, I was very struck by how much of our conversation had, unbeknownst to us, revolved around thoughts to do with landscape and gardens: Margaret Evison is a keen and good gardener. And this poem is called 'The Gardener'.

The Gardener

In Memory of Captain Mark Evison
 
We spent
many hours kneeling together in the garden
     so many hours
          Mark
liked lending a hand
 
watching Gardener’s World
 
building compost heaps
 
or the brick path with the cherry tree
that grows over it now      the white cherry
     where I though      I mustn’t cry
I must behave
     as if he’s coming back
 
*
 
It was just after Easter
with everything in leaf
 
     he is so sweet really
                  but worldly
                         before his time
 
I kissed him and said
                                    See you
in six months      and he turned
 
     he turned and said
 
*
 
I opened the garden for the first time
 
the National Garden Scheme
 
     you know
          what gardens are like in May
 
and this man was hovering around
            outside the front
 
as we walked down the side passage
     he said
            I’m a Major
 
I said      Oh my son      he’s in the army
     sort of brightly
 
*
 
Then I was alone
 
so I went
               and I gardened all day
 
how slow      how satisfying
 
I felt next morning
                 he was struggling for his life
 
*
 
H would be home
     with three transfers
           on three different planes
 
and if he died they would ring me
             and they would go back
                  and they would not keep coming
 
my daughter Elizabeth and I drove to Birmingham
my mobile      there      on the dashboard
 
we had worked out the times of the last plane
and we arrived
     and they still hadn’t called me
           and he was still
 
*
 
He was lying      he was
with this
     Mark
with this big plastic
     sort of
a bandage over a hole
     just like
asleep
 
*
 
the reindeer      the wild reindeer
     giving birth in the snow
           with the rest of the herd scarpering
 
they have seen the eagle above them
 
but the mother stands still
 
     what am I going to do      what
 
a bit restless      and everything
     but starting to lick her baby
with the eagle      watching
 
*
 
Quietened      that is the best word
to describe it      I felt quietened
seeing the hills below
     as we came into Kabul
 
I was thinking
 
     Mark lived in a very green place
and here everything is purple
     orange      Turner colours I call them
 
In my nightmares he is never dead
bandaged      lost      never dead
with my love
           circling
     nowhere to go
 
I was thinking
 
           thousands of lives
                 in an instant
and the molecules starting again
     and the mountains never changing
 
how was I
     quietened
           how
 
but for a moment
     I was
then losing height
     with the brown earth rushing to meet me.

from Peace Talks (Faber, 2015), © Andrew Motion 2015, used by permission of the author c/o The Wylie Agency (UK) Ltd

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3The Letter

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4A Blow to the Head

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23Now Then

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25The Gardener

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26Holy Island

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27The Discoveries of Geography

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