When they are young, some willows and sallows
(a genus called Salix, if anyone cares)
respond to the spring rains in swamps and in shallows
by sprouting soft catkins all covered in fur.
Goat willow, Grey willow, sad little trees
scattered throughout the Eurasian Northwest -
Or American pussy willow, growing free
in Canada and the Northern US.
Before the male shoots mature into flowers,
they become as soft to the touch as kittens -
before the spring leaves, or "sallows" appear
these wetland shrubs become laden with catkins.
Like everything living, they fall down and die,
but some people save them for various reasons -
florists pick them, because when they're dry
they stay soft forever and outlast the seasons.
Polish boys once picked it on Easter Monday
and used it as soft whips on pretty girls' thighs -
in modern times folk prefer window displays,
and courting proceeds on more civilised lines.
It was one of Marta's favourite things -
not "salix caprea" or "salix discolor" -
she didn't say "weak-wooded" or "softly fruiting",
or that its salicin gives us a painkiller.
She wouldn't have liked that golfers these days
say "pussy willow" to mean that you're half-hearted.
It pushes through snow, dioecious and gay,
signalling that spring has finally started.