“Spring forward; Fall back.” – the mnemonic my father taught me to remember which way the clocks needed to be altered at the beginning and end of British Summer Time.
Fall back is also one of those marvellous English phrasal verbs – known by many EFL students as “frazzle” verbs, presumably because of the effect on the mind of trying to memorise them – where a main verb is combined with a particle (adverb, preposition, or both).
Sometimes a phrasal verb makes sense if you understand the different parts: She put down the book is really not that complicated, though it may not be obvious whether She put the book down on the table or She put down the book on the table sounds better.
At other times, knowing the literal meaning of the words won’t necessarily help: She couldn’t put the book down entails a slight mental leap, whereas The vet put down the cat, will probably require further explanation and perhaps a box of tissues or a shoulder to cry on.
Today, after that brief grammatical detour, I wanted to fall back on a topic I’ve written about several times this year: the Pride of India Tree in the local park.
The tree has now lost its leaves and the seed pods have all turned to russet brown. They are gloriously bright in the autumn sunshine and this afternoon were dancing against the backdrop of an almost purple sky.
But there’s not really much more to say about the tree, so I had better find a poem. And as I probably have even more poems about dead cats than I do about autumn, here’s one that ties in with the phrasal verb example from earlier.
Sixteen things to do
when your cat dies:
you’ll never have another animal –
after her sister’s dead, of course.
Get out the photos and remember
how tiny she was, and how bleary-eyed,
the first time you saw her
curled in the pet shop cage.
for wishing it had been
her sister – she’s the one who cries
all night and peed on your new boots.
Think how light she was
and how blurred her eyes
when you left her at the vet’s.
for not realising sooner just how ill
she was. Remember the threadbare velvet
of her forelegs where they shaved her
for the drip. Eat chocolate. Cry. Buy flowers
for the corner of your desk
where she used to sit.
Catch yourself thinking
it’s just as well her sister’s still alive
to eat up all those tins. Stop and call
to every alleycat and stray you see. Carry
kibble in your pocket and try
to feed them all.
Console yourself –
ten years isn’t bad: the street cats probably
don’t live ten months. Share
your toast and marmite with her sister.
Walk past the pet shop after work each evening.