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James Bateman’s Biddulph

In his garden, the mind moves through moss-light,
brushes roots in air, stoops in rock tunnels,
pieces together a dug out honeycomb of continents,
a Sundarbans of creatures and creepers.

Gloomy wetness shines in each ruinous chamber;
assembled vegetable and mineral glisten quietly
in half underground, half above ground wombs
where Spring’s tentacles begin to emerge
in small colours:  pink gums of Dog’s Tooth Violet,
turban-blue stars of Pulmonaria, wands of Yellow Willow,
Skimmia’s bloody beads, Rupturewort, Milkwort –
these spooky names a cave chant of Latin and witch.

No wonder he splashed this darkness with Chinoiserie:
a bridge of tinkling bells, scarlet and turquoise fretwork.
For twenty years, he dropped his coins into this soil -
into his Great Wall, giant ferns, shrubberies and follies.
He sent plant hunters to Guatemala and New Granada
to find twists and tongues for his primeval Eden,
proof of Moses’ cosmogony, the six days he believed in.

And on the seventh day God rested, and created orchids.

How Bateman loved those flowers - their cool allure;
their intricate, interlocking parts which invite us to explore.
Their gentle genesis, he thought, waited in God’s mind
until he’d created man
                                        who was to be soothed by their beauty.

Adam Strickson

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