Dandelions for Mother’s Day

‘Pee-the-Beds’ and ‘Mother-Die!

Pick it and your mam’ll die!

Faces like the sun, she said

plunged them in a jam-jar.

But they caught up with her: –

stained her skin yellow,

turned her hair to seed-clocks,

blew away her years.

This poem is quite an old one. In fact, it was the title poem of my debut collection, published in 1988 by Stride Books. I remember the incident behind it very clearly. I was brought up in post-war Widnes, where bombed out and demolished houses created areas of scrub land where only tough plants grew. This included rosebay willow herb, sometimes called fireweed, because it can shoot up fast even where there has been a fire; coltsfoot, those tough-leaved, tough-rooted little plants that are rarely seen these days, and sunny dandelions, with their tooth-shaped leaf edges. My mum loved flowers, and I never missed an opportunity to pick any I saw growing wild, to take home. I must have been around 5 when I picked these. Some children nearby sang that rhyme at me, but I paid little heed, as I’d been taught to reject such silly superstitions. I took them home and she was very pleased to put them in water, saying they had faces like the sun.

I later life, when she had a terminal liver disease, her hair, which was often fretted, and by then snowy white, looked exactly like the seed-clocks of the dandelions we used to blow to tell the time. Her skin was yellow from her failing liver. She had died by the time I wrote this poem. She was only 69. I approach this age myself and I still think of her every day.

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