My grandmother took me to many wonderful places when I was young. Standing under the white mulberry took me back to a trip to Lullingstone Castle, to watch hundreds of caterpillars eating and silk being made.
The White Mulberry
China to Turkey, Eltham to Lullingstone Castle,
with my slow grandmother, her gnarled hands,
her bag, her flapping coat, brooch at the collar,
loving anything with the word Queen in it -
Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth. Silk, the rustle
of worms, hundreds and hundreds of them,
chewing; gorging themselves on baskets
and baskets of leaves.The sickening stink,
their tight white vests, half a mile of silk spat
out of the mouth making a house to hide in -
all for a tie, an altar frontal, lingerie- a word
my grandmother choked on. There were bees
outside, in the acres of trees. Watching the hives,
they seemed more alive, busier, more purposeful
than the worms who just ate. You could buy
a cocoon in the shop, or a tie or a carton of honey
complete with a comb which tasted of wax.
King James the First wanted silk, but
bought the wrong trees, an expensive mistake.
Lady Zoe Hart Dyke knew her Morus alba,
she gave thirty rooms over to silkworms
she'd imported from China, to spin wedding
dresses for Queens; to my grandmother's delight.