My father brought peony cuttings from his garden.
Insisting that he’d plant them, he gathered the required tools;
foremost a spade, its polished face turned to my garage wall
some eighteen months. He was not dressed for the operation,
suit, yellow V-neck jumper, suede Hush Puppies.
He eyed my garden, decided on a spot shaded from
blistering summer sun by overhanging fuchsia.
I stood, distant. He spat on his hands.
Heel to spade, he was quick to form a hole
one foot deep, push the plant into the earth
to winter there. His hands kneaded the soil,
sprinkled potash to encourage spring
and early summer regeneration.
Next spring the peonies delivered:
a short outburst of fiery blossoms, citrus and spicey,
rubbing against soft pastels of Grandiflora roses.
Returned in subsequent years, before they became subdued.
And in the year they lowered my father into the earth
at Coolhill Cemetery, all bloom had gone,
for I allowed foxglove and ragwort to run rampant.
In autumn, my ten-year-old son close by my heels,
I picked up the spade. We dug out
the damaged tubers, stripped away the wilted stalks,
replanted in a light-filled space. I made allowances
for blemishes, the fickle nature of that plant -
it took two years before the flowers would fire again –
my father’s breath in them.