Among Poppies

And now my beauties, something with poison in it I think, with poison in it, but attractive to the eye and soothing to the smell . . . poppies, poppies, poppies will put them to sleep.”
—The Wicked Witch of the West, The Wizard of Oz (movie, released 1939)

Yesterday as I wandered among the flowers in the Gardens, I thought of my friend Rob, who recently died. And of another friend, Elizabeth, who is also no longer with us.

While taking these photos, a little girl tried to follow me, despite her mother calling for her to, “Come back” with enticements such as, “Where’s your new toy? Come and see your toy.” And finally resorting to, “We’re going now.”

I forget the wee girl’s name. Melody, maybe? Anyway, ‘Melody’ was determined to follow this strange woman looking at the flowers. In the end I turned to her (as I could hear her mother getting more and more frantic.) “Go back to Mummy. Go on. Go back to Mummy. Mummy’s calling you,” I said in as gentle-but-firm a voice as my memories of being an early childhood teacher could muster. I felt like I was talking to a puppy-dog that needed to be directed back on the right track. Melody gave me one more wide-eyed look of curiosity before obediently turning on her sturdy little legs and walking back to her mother.

I was at the Botanical Gardens for a meeting with three other poets. We meet fairly regularly to discuss poems and to comment and discuss generally on the wildlife – the wildlife of the writing world not being the least of that discussion.

These blue poppies remind me of something that shouldn’t happen, but does – producing an unusual beauty. These flowers are now on their last legs and somewhat in tatters. But there is still beauty there – a faded glory. Beauty of imperfection. Of the overlooked.

Himalayan Poppies are their common name. They are related to the poppy family, but are not a true poppy. I can relate to these flowers on a few levels.


On my way back into town, walking through the University area, there was a lot to be appreciated in the architecture, the river (Water of Leith) the layout and sculptures. It’s a splendid-looking university, creatively and neatly maintained with its attributes; architectural as well as natural; cleverly accentuated.

Memories come flooding in whenever I walk through here – memories of the early 1970’s when I was a callow student hardly knowing how to take everything in. And then other memories laid on top of those, of later – the late 90’s and early into the 21st century – when as a middle-aged woman I completed English papers here. My favourite being the poetry workshop taken by American lecturer, John Dolan. He and his wife Katherine have become friends.

When you’ve lived in a town as long as I have – and when you have moved away and come back again, as I have, twice – the ghosts and memories become as layered as the layers of a tiramisu cake.

Years ago, while waiting at the crossing just across the road from where this photo was taken, I can remember someone standing behind me saying, “Oh. But the crème brûlée.” For me, no matter how many years have passed – and there have been many! – whenever I find myself back at that spot again I remember that crème brûlée and how delicious it was for a stranger standing behind me.


Writer from Dunedin, New Zealand.

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