Mulch

I ask him what he’s doing. He’s tying up the newly planted
fruit-shrub to the post of the wooden growing frame. Tayberry.
I haven’t heard of that one. There’s a loganberry further along,
he’ll do that next. I watch him, crouched, thick, strong fingers
negotiating the knot with a fixed and tight-jawed concentration,
that works its way down into his throat. It’s a fine day in the garden,
mid-April, warm, when the sun’s out, on the back of the neck
and the arms. Some of the others put on suncream. They’re trying
to look at things as if with a child’s eyes, find something
of that carefree dash and babble that’s there too in the birdsong
that hides and seeks among the branches, and in the hopscotch
colours of the flowers. But there’s cloud too and a wind that cuts,
chills the flesh, put water in the eye. Summer’s not here yet.
He says that when he’s done he’ll mulch them. What’s that?
Mulch, he says, anything organic, dead leaves, bark chippings,
you pack it round the stem to keep the moisture in, help the roots
to take, the shrub to grow. There’s apple and cherry, plum, pear,
a vine. Promise of ripened fruit. He’s serious about it. He takes
another length of twine and starts again. I leave him to it, move
away to squat by the pond and look for frogspawn. It was put in
three days ago, a fist-sized clump of jellied specks, and now
those specks have lengthened, hooked themselves to life
inside their mucus. But their grip’s still fragile, anything yet
could prise them off. No world is safe. There are predators about.
I glance back. He’s finished tying up the shrubs and now
he’s mulching them, concentrated still, all his thoughts maybe
absorbed by that, instead of letting them stray elsewhere.
Mulch and moist and dark, pressed down by hands as if in prayer.
The stuff of life, things worked unseen, and a brightness in the air.