James Bateman's Dahlia Walk

by Roger Elkin

He demanded not-Englishness from flowers,
like the porcelain-fine orchids with their Guatemalan
aloofness he sported in his fourteen Staffordshire
glasshouses, or the moutan peonies shipped in
from Japan to answer the challenge of managing
how to grow their foreignness.

So became besotted fostering his possessions
and, walking each August morning after his Tiffin-ritual,
lingered by the raised dahlia-beds, giant-stepping
in regimented sections from gravelled path
to yew-clipped parterre where, double-checking,
smiled benignly at dahlia-parades of brassy Aztec reds,
yellows, whites, golds in galaxies of boldness:
rocketing pom-pom constellations, cactus asteroids,
ice-white rising moons, and fallen-to-earth suns.

Gloves pocketed in frock-coat, he caressed the petal
incurves, their glass-chilled filaments fragile as skin,
and leaning forward to inspect with fumbling thumb and fingers
prised inside their pleated buds, easing free the seed-headed
anaemic greenness, their bleached lesions of bloom,
as if trying to find the secret of how these flowers -
sizzing fiestas cresting on the stem, so loud, so alien -
had smuggled their residues of Mexican ascendancy
overseas to here, to now, for him.

Judge's Comments - Peter Wyton