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My Magnolia Tree
Poem by Taylor Edmonds
My Magnolia Tree
All I have left of my great-grandmother is her letters.
While I was taking my first breath
she was watching the storm roll in,
lining the house with an army of sandbags,
willing the river to shush. It had given warning
in the bloat of it, with plastic bags and Stella cans
thrown up onto the grass. I know this
because my grandmother never had secrets.
She began writing me letters long before I existed,
so that I might grow into something good,
I know of all her firsts.
First school, with the haunted bell tower
and the boys that cornered her in the playground.
First pet, a tan Labrador that uprooted
the floor tiles when left alone.
First fear, of being swallowed by the moon.
First home, council estate, a magnolia tree
that shed petals of pink snow in spring.
Her first kiss, between the rocks at the water’s edge,
incoming tide snaking up her legs.
There are lessons here.
I dream of Cardiff, where I chase
my grandmother’s outline through the back streets,
seek fingerprints on shop windows,
a flash of her on the top deck of a bus.
Sometimes, I find her on the green of Bute Park
picking wild garlic, sheltering
from a shower at Central Station,
or clasping a blue bag of fruit on City Road.
She tells me nothing was an accident.
The leaders, the people, they rolled
over like spent dogs, yawned above the warnings.
All my great-grandmother wanted was to die
an honest woman, on honest land.
I will never re-live her firsts,
never see the garden
where she planted magnolia
so that I too could hold pink petals of snow.
Her underwater city is a skeleton, a shipwreck;
but still, I ache for it.
I read her letters to the sky
while the storm rolls in, I line
the house with an army of sandbags.
Taylor Edmonds, the former Poet in Residence for the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, imagined a future where the places we live are lost forever.
The 26-year-old was recruited to the post in April 2021 to communicate Wales’ Well-being of Future Generations Act and the duty it puts on those in power to protect people not yet born. Passed in 2015, the law requires decision-makers including Welsh Government, to use more joined-up thinking to prevent problems like climate change and inequality in the long-term.
Taylor, who was born and raised in seaside town Barry, penned My Magnolia Tree after learning more about the risks of rising sea levels if huge cuts are not made to our carbon emissions.
WE WILL BEAR WITNESS to the peril—and resistance—of this moment in history.