Fairchild’s Mule

A dried specimen of the first artificial hybrid was presented to the Royal Society in 1726.

To be suddenly wide-awake
sowing leaf-shadows
in the moonlit hours.

To attend.

To wait red-eyed
in the gold mist of the city’s dawn
for the opening of the flowers.

Under the breath, to say
a prayer for the soul.

To steady the hand.

With a feather
to harvest the pollen-grains,

brushing only the topmost tips
of the buttery stamens.
Sweet william. Then by feel

with the forefinger and thumb of the left hand
to find the gillyflower’s pistil

and hold it in the fullness of light.

To marry pollen to stigma.
Not to know, this glorious morning,

the seed can never come true.

by Lesley Saunders

‘Fairchild’s Mule’ is copyright © Lesley Saunders, 2012. It is reprinted from Cloud Camera by permission of Two Rivers Press.

Notes from Two Rivers Press:

If scientific instruments and objects – the early twentieth-century cloud camera or Herschel’s ‘comet sweeper’ telescope or Florence Nightingale’s diagram of hospital deaths or Freud’s couch – could have a dream life, the poems in Cloud Camera are an attempt to evoke it. The book inhabits an imagined, even a haunted, world of science and technology – there are poems that conjure anything from the first balloon flight made by a woman or the effect of experiments with laughing-gas, to how Braille was invented, when the first artificial plant hybrid was created and what the impact of static electricity on the human body looks like. The poetry both celebrates and laments the endless human curiosity to find out ‘what the terrestrial body can stand, / at what point the mind turns itself inside out.’ You can read ‘Germ Theory’, another poem from the collection, on the Two Rivers site here.

Lesley Saunders is the author of several books and pamphlets of poetry, including Christina the Astonishing (with Jane Draycott and artist Peter Hay) and Her Leafy Eye (with artist Geoff Carr), both published by Two Rivers Press. Lesley’s work has been widely published in journals and anthologies, and has won major awards; she has held several poetry residencies, and is involved in various collaborations and commissions. Find out more about her work on her website.

Two Rivers Press was founded in Reading in 1994 by Peter Hay (1951–2003), an artist and enthusiast for the town and its two rivers, the Kennet and the Thames. In nearly two decades of publishing and with over seventy titles since its inception, it has been described as ‘one of the most characterful small presses in the country’. It focuses on local poets and a significant part of its work explores and celebrates local history and environment. Bold illustration and striking design are important elements of its work, used to great effect in new editions of classic poems, especially ones with some Reading connection: for example, Oscar Wilde’s The Ballad of Reading Gaol, and in collections of contemporary poetry from local poets such as Reading Poetry: an anthology edited by Peter Robinson. It has recently published A Mutual Friend: Poems for Charles Dickens, an anthology with a very distinguished list of contributors, also edited by Peter Robinson. The Press is strongly rooted in the local community and has close links with the University, Poets’ Café, RISC, Museum of English Rural Life and other local groups. Its contribution to Reading’s culture won for it a Pride of Reading award in 2008. You can find more information at the press’s website, and on its Facebook page.