Imagine pulling off the road at the height of Summer to a wooden stall at the mouth of an orchard, cherries dripping from the trees. A woman behind the stall shoulders a week-old child. A toddler sits in a playpen beneath the trees. You ask what is in the punnets. Merton Glories, each fruit a yin–yang of yellow and red. Early Rivers, purple red. Autumn brings bulldozers and bonfires, and all that remains is the rusted shell of a burnt-out car and a planning notice.
There are Boats on the Orchard chronicles seven years of living alongside the disappearing orchards of Kent. Poems by Maria C. McCarthy. Images by Sara Fletcher.
Boy on a ladder
It was all hands on deck and up before the lark,
beating the birds, loading baskets,
ferrying cherries to trains and barges,
and off to the London markets.
Two rungs up, and there you are,
In sturdy boots, short trousers,
crew neck sweater, grubby knees.
Did they coax a smile? Say cheese.
You were having none of it. Your elbows lean,
fingers splayed as if playing a small guitar.
A deep-filled basket rests at the foot of the ladder,
bigger around than your hands could reach.
The war to end them all just past.
But what would you know of that?
Life was a bellyful of cherries,
tummyache the worst of your worries.
Another year, another war,
in Navy cap and uniform,
waved from the same station
where the cherries had departed.
This photograph kept – where?
In a book, an envelope, a kitchen drawer?
A corner is torn, a crease threatens to rip,
arcing like a scythe at your shins.
In memory of Ronald Leslie Harding, who died on active service in World War II. From a photograph, with kind permission of Jacquie Kirby.
There are boats on the orchard
Tarpaulin stretched over hull, on twin wheels
with one flat tyre, tilted starboard,
a parched prow points towards the water
butt that catches the run-off from the outhouse roof.
It’s seen the turning of the seasons twice
in this spot across from its mate that nestles
in the hedgerow, mast scraping hawthorn.
The farmer’s in the orchard with a man
and van with Drainage Solutions inscribed
on the side. A handshake, then Solutions
man hooks hedgerow boat to trailer,
tacks between the blossoming trees.
There was a speedboat, too, that should have been
cresting the waves at Whitstable, but sat so long
in the gap by the broken-down horsebox
that I noticed neither its presence, nor absence,
till a policeman neighbour saw paperwork
at the station, relating to its liberation.
There were floods in fifty-three.
Hundreds of sheep were drowned
due to loss of local knowledge,
left to graze on marshland
reclaimed by the estuary
that lies between the mainland
where the orchard stands
and the Isle of Sheppey.
One grass-locked vessel
waits for the waters to swell.
Maria C. McCarthy writes poetry, short stories and memoir. She has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Kent, and was the winner of the Society of Authors’ Tom-Gallon Trust Award in 2015. After several years of living in the north Kent village of Teynham, where she wrote in a shed looking out on boats on an orchard, she now lives in the Medway Towns, and looks out on boats on the river. Her website is www.medwaymaria.co.uk
Sara Fletcher grew up in Kent, and now lives in the village of Halling, a few minutes’ walk from the River Medway. A chartered civil engineer with over twenty years of working for local authorities before setting up her own consultancy, she is also a zoology graduate with a passionate interest in the natural world. Having always enjoyed drawing and painting, as well as a variety of other creative activities, she was delighted to be offered the opportunity to collaborate with Maria McCarthy on There Are Boats on the Orchard.