Oliver Southall: Excerpt from The Willow’s Eye

Catkins press from the willow’s cupped buds.

I imagine the crescendo hum of slow and bulbous bees, remember last year’s early
Chiffchaff, whirled among the outer branches, frantic with its migrant hunger.

I remember squirrels, too, munching catkins like corn-on-the-cob. How they dangle with a
fuck-you attitude from their tails.

Last winter, storm winds pulled down another local sallow, thirty yards to the west of my
window. It grazed the side of the building, crumpling the gutter, then lay like a tilted labyrinth over the path.

Amongst its aerial roots I found a rusted battery, the remnants of a defunct electrical device. I plucked a bluebell bulb, pale, with a ghostly, achlorophyllous shoot – subterranean spring, poised at the meniscus of the year.

Later, tree surgeons were called in to dismantle the tree. They sliced it, neatly, packed it
away, leaving a six-foot stanza of trunk, nestled and horizontal in the grass.

Now it’s summer and the sawn section of willow sprouts leafy, treelet shoots from each eye in the rumpled bark. Its whole length is pocked with their nubby, larval extrusions. All along the mud hull of its heavy impress, too, new roots will fuse it to the earth.

I love this new version of the willow, its second-draft life.

Oliver Southall

Oliver Southall is a writer based in West Sussex. His book, Borage Blue, a collection of prose and verse meditations on poetics, nature and sensation was published by Corbel Stone Press in December 2019, while poems have appeared in journals including Blackbox ManifoldReliquiaeEffects, The Clearing and Tears in the Fence. A pamphlet, Exaptations, was shortlisted by Mary-Jean Chan for the Magma Open Poetry Pamphlet Competition, 2020. He has a doctorate in English Literature and has published scholarly writing on poetry in Textual Practice and William Carlos Williams Review. Currently, he is at work on Rowan, a monograph on the natural, cultural and social history of the rowan tree (Sorbus aucuparia), commissioned as part of the Botanical Series published by Reaktion Books.

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