A 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, 

thrown up plastic bags and Stella cans. 

My grandmother never had secrets.

She began writing me letters before I existed,

so that I might grow good, brave. 

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, 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.

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 at Central Station,

or clasping a blue bag of apples on City Road.

She tells me nothing was an accident.

The leaders, the people, they rolled 

over like spent dogs, yawning.

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 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 is a poet and writer from South Wales. Her debut pamphlet Back Teeth was published with Broken Sleep Books in 2022. Taylor was previously Poet in Residence for the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales. Her publications include Poetry Wales, Butcher’s Dog, BBC Wales and Parthian.