Martha main
Credit: Derek Bewley, Kent Bradford, Henk Hilhorst, Hiroyuki Nonogaki, ‘Seeds: Physiology of Development, Germination and Dormancy’, 3rd Edition, 2012, Springer New York, page 260. Image caption: Cryosections of two tomato seeds. On the left, (a) a ungerminated non-dormant seed, 24-hour-imbibed; (b) a dormant tomato seed, 5-day-imbibed, i.e. made moist for five days, curled in on itself. The radicles ready themselves to emerge through bulges in the seed coat. On the right, the same seeds looking somewhat like a galaxy. Instead of an outline of the embryo’s form, the amorphous shapes image energy-carrying molecules called adenosine triphosphate. Molecules that are effectively light and oxygen transformed into the internal resources the seed needs to grow. They also facilitate cellular level signals, enabling the seed to communicate with itself.

As the earth turns towards winter, I think of the gardens that I have known. Of bare soil—cool to the touch—under weak rays of a reticent sun. Of short days falling willingly away to night. Of the cold. These are the quiet months when the garden’s ability to still itself is a precondition for its survival.

To the eye, autumn is a season of dying and winter a season of death. Only when the warmth of spring tentatively invites you to take your coat off while you observe delicate shoots pushing into the light does life seem to take dominance again in the garden.

In Norse mythology, the awful ‘great winter’ Fimbulvetr puts an end to life on earth, except for the friends Líf—‘life’—and Lífþrasir—the desire to live it. The anonymous Old Norse poems of the Poetic Edda tell us that the two companions lay hidden in the forest of Hoddmímis, drinking dew each morning as a way to survive. The story goes that they went on to repopulate the earth.

Líf and Lífþrasir
lie hidden
in the grove of Hoard-Mimir;
the morning dews
they shall have as meat,
from them generations will spring. [1]

Like dormant seeds they lay hidden (or buried, as an alternative translation reads) while the complete destruction of all other human life happened around them. Their ability to hold themselves in this in-between state amid the winter preserved and restored life beyond the dislocation caused by Fimbulvetr.

Seeds do this year on year, laying dormant in order to survive. A strategic action that facilitates their dispersal in space and time. A deliberate act of inaction that refuses to respond until the time and the place is right and the seed is ready.

found poem 1*

of these, the smooth, black seeds have the deepest dormancy

quiescent seeds are resting organs
almost at a standstill
they are able to survive in this state

A seed with dormancy is able to interpret a complex set of environmental factors carefully intuiting when and where ‘radicle emergence’ can take place: the process (emergence) and apparatus (radicle) with which it roots itself to the earth.

found poem 2*

a seed expresses dormancy

dormant tissues
enclosing the embryo,
the coat,
called imposed,
though a better term may be enhanced,

the coat enhanced,
a constraint
that cannot overcome

While we may feel more familiar with the notion that warmth triggers germination, for many seeds it is the cold that breaks dormancy. A break that is not a rupture, sudden and dangerous, but careful and purposive. Readying, in anticipation of Spring.

found poem 3*

a means,
slowly broken

While I feel drawn to an image of tender reciprocity between the seed and the cold, it is actually the seed’s tenacity and wisdom that ensures its survival.

This is something the mothers knew when they planted seeds in the furrows of their children’s cornrow so that they could eat, wherever it was that they were going.

found poem 4*

before emergence: a means of break/age

this cold
await this cold
await the Passage
the passage of this cold
cold season

I am curious about dormancy as a liminal temporal space held in careful balance by, with and because of the cold, which also breaks its suspension. I find the balance between strategy, courage and vulnerability compelling; the ability to navigate and negate inhospitable environments while maintaining autonomy, possessed with the absolute self-knowledge that you are more than you are enabled to be right now. How is all that held within the interior of a seed?

I am reminded of…………………………………………[2]

Dormancy as suspended motion/stasis.

stasis: ‘deliberate practices of diasporic dwelling…diasporic homemaking that functions as a kind of home-o-stasis—an active and effortful balancing of multiple flows that produces motion even in stillness.’[3]

I think of the shadow text, of the words never written (because there wasn’t the time or the confidence or the permission) or never able to be written because there isn’t the language or it was taken or we were taken.

I think of the words lost because they were only ever spoken and there are only so many oceans a voice can carry across.

I think of mothers braiding rice tight against their children’s scalp.

A way outa no way.

I think of those children, in that picture, flying kites.

I think of kitchen comedians I have known and my laughter.

I think of babies suspended in silence before they draw their first breath.

I think of quiet elders, deciding instead to ask questions.

I think of quiet talents with no audience and no platform.

I think of doing things for the sake of it.

I remember how precious and necessary these things are.

In myths, the stories we don’t know we know but are the way we think, I find myself seeking a metaphor that situates the Black diaspora within mythologies of the North, of these cold places. An origin story that utilises the traditions of the Northern hemisphere to speak to our ability to hold ourselves as Black subjects in an in-between space surrounded by white, imbibing the sweet morning dew while nestled into the lush darkness of a woodland undergrowth as we wait for the fierce white winter ravaging around us to break. And in so using these traditions we refuse our exclusion from them (and our inclusion within them, but that is for another time).

In calling on the ‘tense and effortful motionlessness’[4] of Líf and Lífþrasir laying buried in the forest, the ancestral wisdom of seed life in dormancy, on the genius of Tina M. Campt and the precision of Torkwase Dyson, I seek new mythologies that speak to preservation and restoration, of the ability to bear with and still prosper. New mythologies that can become ancient, that situate us at the origin and the outcome, in the beginning and at the break, in the garden. New mythologies that root the Black diaspora firmly in place.


* Poems found within ‘Seeds: Physiology of Development, Germination and Dormancy’, 1st/3rd Editions, 1994/2012 by J. Derek Bewley, Kent Bradford, Henk Hilhorst, hiroyuki nonogaki,

[1] ‘Váfþruðnismál 45’, Poetic Edda

[2] ;In built and natural environments, each object helps define our conditions of movement. The design of our physical world informs the methods in which motion emerges and spatial strategy is organized. For black people, moving through a given environment comes with questions of belonging and a self-determination of visibility and semi-autonomy. This means for the systemically disenfranchised, compositional movement (ways in which the body unifies, balances, and arranges itself to move through space) is a skill used in the service of self-emancipation within hostile geographies. Further, the brain deciphers, measures, categorizes, and understands both immediate and distant physical forms in relationship to the spatial structures defined by the conditions of power.’ (Torkwase Dyson, ‘Black Interiority: Notes on Architecture, Infrastructure, Environmental Justice, and Abstract Drawing’,, 2017)

[3] Tina M. Campt, ‘Performing Stillness: Diaspora and Stasis in Black German Vernacular Photography’, Qui Parle Vol 26, No. 1, June 2017, 161

[4] Tina M. Campt, ‘Performing Stillness: Diaspora and Stasis in Black German Vernacular Photography’, Qui Parle Vol 26, No. 1, June 2017, 157


Martha Adonai Williams is a writer, producer and community worker based in Glasgow and the internet. Her practice departs to and returns from black feminist world-making, always, with regular layovers in front of trash tv or at the allotment

This writing forms part of a series curated by Camara Taylor, looking at ‘the cold’ in its various registers and realities.

This commission has developed as a collaboration between the Scottish BAME Writers Network (SBWN) and MAP resident Reviews and Projects Co-editors Alison and Rosie. Special thanks to Jeda Pearl of SBWN.