By Sarah Mnatzaganian
St Mary’s Street Bakery, March 2020
We obey the pavement’s pink chalk stripes,
two metres apart. We play with our phones
to pass the time – or pitch a few words underarm,
like soft tennis balls, to the next in line.
It’s easy to talk to strangers, these strange days.
Something has loosened our tongues,
not just a shared desire for seeded sourdough
and cardamom twists, bagels and bostock,
sanctioned sunlight and clean, yeasty air.
I sigh at the scent from the open bakery door.
Behind me, a man asks, What can you smell?
I tell him, Croissants, brioche, hot cross buns,
but that’s not all. What I smell is sweet
as a baby’s head after sleep, soft as its feet.
It is fresh as the blackbird’s steady serenade
this Saturday morning on St Mary’s Street.
I smell the small warm realities we can tuck
under one arm and take, contented, home.
I love the way he drives a five-gang mower
over this fanciful course, side cutters bouncing.
He cuts magnificent stripes all along the fairway,
swathes of green, stroked north, stroked south
and now he slaloms playfully round avenues
of lime, cherry, chestnut, willow, birch,
pirouetting round their untouched trunks,
spreading ripples in the grass.
Don’t talk to me of weed killer, fertiliser, fuel.
We need somewhere safe and beautiful to hide.
View from the rough
The water hazard’s far too full of weed,
but still the willows fling their long green hair
like Monet girls, down to the dirty lake.
The cherries are so white they startle me.
I’d pick their brittle twigs and take them home,
if it wasn’t blasphemy.
Now we’ve just one hour a day outside,
I’ll take my time in this managed paradise.
Stay in the dew-drenched rough.
Wave long and gratefully to the groundsman
practising his calligraphy
around the wakening trees.
Company of trees
Each poplar, lime, ash, oak, says
my people are not far away,
They’re close enough for a bird
to sing from one, be heard by all,
close enough for roots to meet, talk,
feed each other, warn of disease.
Come, everyone I love! I’ll watch your faces
change with every day of spring.
Feel on my skin the same roar of rain
in your listening branches.
Old man willow will grow new arms
from his sawn trunk.
Birches will shed silver without pain
and caterpillar the grass with catkins.
Black barked cherries will unleash flowers
of white, then rain-crushed pink.
In any other spring, I would have stolen
your undefended blossom.
This year I need to see your canopies
Anglo-Armenian poet Sarah Mnatzaganian lives in Ely. Shortlisted in the 2020 Indigo Dreams, the 2019 Mslexia/PBS and the 2017 Poetry Business pamphlet competitions, her poems have appeared in The Rialto, Magma, The North, Pennine Platform, London Grip, Atrium, Snakeskin, 14 Magazine, Fenland Reed, PITWR and numerous anthologies. Facebook: SarahMnatzaganian
I wrote these poems to capture the ways I remind myself of what matters in life and what it is that makes me feel free and connected at the same time, whether walking on a golf course, thinking of the trees there as my family, appreciating the playfulness of the grasscutting around the feet of those familial trees like ripples radiating from their trunks, or breathing in the scent of fresh bread and realising that it reminded me of inhaling the scent of my children’s heads. Simple things to keep you sane, to keep you safe.