In wartime, I remember, once a week
My mother took me as a treat to town
Where we would make a bee-line for the shop
That sold small cactus plants in bright red pots,
Old stock left over from before the War
And each one priced at sixpence or a shilling.
In my collector’s mind they seemed to glow,
Those magic shapes, exotic and unique
In those grey days of scarcity and dearth,
They were the only ‘toys’ I’d ever known
(You cannot count those flat unpainted pigs
And sheep in shiny lead that Woolworth’s sold) .
These cacti were the highlight of my week,
They seemed to brightly shine inside my head,
Each one so trim and perfect in its pot
Surrounded by a ring of silver sand
And neatly labelled with its Latin name,
Those occult names that I can still recite—
Kleinia articulata, the Candle Plant
With blueish waxy leaves like parted tongues,
The green Nopalea coccinilifera
And densely spined Opuntia microdasys,
Whose deadly barbs embedded in my flesh
I had to probe and pluck each time with tweezers.
I can recall the choosing, and the care
With which I carried each one home, like glass,
And like a miser gloated over it.
Now sixty years have passed, yet when
I go into my greenhouse, where row on row
Of cacti grow, I feel just eight years old.