They Watch Over Us by Lisette Auton

“I live in Darlington, we have a little back yard, no green except for the bits in pots. The wonder for me in this town are the parks on my doorstep, especially the Denes and South Park. It’s like having a free back garden that I don’t have to mow. Those trees in South Park! They fascinated me when I was young, still do now. So many generations must have felt the same. I wanted to commemorate them, and all of us in the town who’ve played in them. I loved researching, and then sitting, thinking, writing.”

They watch over us – a Darlington Wonder by Lisette Auton

I have a little back yard, white washed 
small green captives in pots, a carpet of stone.
I’ve no need for a garden of lawn,
no need to devote Saturdays to mowing,
‘cause when I sit under the willows
and the Skerne washes past 
bare feet planted in dewy grass, this Victorian park is mine.

Follow the sound of the welly-stomp hide and seek warriors
know where they’re heading, know where I used to hide.
Trees in their wake are wizened inferior
eyes climb – clock tower, then up, up, up, up.

I’ve clambered those trunks, those multiple stems
laid back and caught sunlight through branches
dreamed, hidden, yelled.
Caught, chased, climbed and dangled,
come a cropper, cried, had ice cream to soothe.
Grandparents watch from wooden benches
soundtrack of bowling balls clunk and dogs barking at ducks
as a new generation winds and laughs round those roots.

We were not the first.
Full bell skirts and nipped in waists fanned themselves as
one hundred and fifty-seven years and counting ago
they planted the trees donated by keen botanist and
Quaker philanthropist, Mr Alfred Backhouse.
Sequoiadendron giganteum – future King Edward VII, may your marriage by blessed.

Light seeking withered snakes roam from orange onion bulb centre.
A needle strewn carpet.
Pull a frond out of your sandal as mam buckles you back in the car.
She douses your screaming, your tears, ‘They’re not going anywhere, pet,
they’ve been there for hundreds of years.
I played on them too, when I was your age,
and granny and grandpa and Wilf next door.
They’ll still be there next Saturday, they’re yours to explore.’

The Wellingtonias watch over us,
gentle quiet wind laden branches, our wars and our fashions,
passing before them our lifetimes, a moment of theirs.
What they hold onto most is the laughter of children
who know that they’re the ones to discover them,
to make them their den,
to leg-dangle eat butties, fall out, scuff knees, charge round once again.

Lisette Auton does stuff with words: disabled writer, activist, poet, spoken-word artist, actor, theatre-maker and creative practitioner. She is an award-winning poet who is widely published and is known for her energised performances in the spoken word scene. Lisette is a Penguin WriteNow mentee and has completed her first novel. She was the 2019 Early Careers Fellow for Literature at Cove Park supported by the Fenton Arts Trust, and is on the TSS Publishing list of Best British & Irish Flash Fiction.

Lisette works with many creative collaborators to create unique and innovative cross artform works which have featured at MIMA, Kirkleatham Museum, Durham Book Festival and online. She is currently Assistant Producer for Disconsortia’s At The Table programme.

Lisette has performed at Northern Stage, ARC, The Southbank Centre and the Sage, in pubs, in a crypt, at festivals, indoors, outdoors, on a bridge and in a launderette. She uses her platform as a performer, writer and theatre-maker to make the invisible visible.

See how Lisette created this poem