TWENTY TWO STEPS

The steps are gone,
fenced off and hidden
by thickets of blackberry
which have spread like wildfire
all summer, the crop sweeter
for being out of reach. No one


will come to climb the steps
again, steps neither
washed away nor removed,
but left to weather
season after season
to make a private road


more private still, though
birdsong and shadows
seemed its only traffic
during long summers
when we left the wood
by the way we came,


the steps, counting
them as we climbed,
numbering each aloud,
knowing the sum
would always be the same,
all doubts allayed


when we reached the top.
In one direction,
the right, lay the house,
sequestered in grounds
of such discretion
and polite ownership,


it might not be there
at all, if winter
had not laid it bare
behind leafless trees,
a bright distemper
which burned like lime


if we looked too long.
To the left.....but the steps
are gone and too deep
under the seasons
to be seen again,
except through memory –


how, under a moon
no one could blame,
the steps began to chime,
as if a horseshoe
had been thrown down
to ring like iron


behind us on the brazen
ground; or how the snow
would melt away, a dog
licking its wounds, when
the thaw came; how, before
the steps were overrun,


we stood and watched
as snow fell silently
among the briars,
which were etched and black
against December’s
failing light, only a flake


or two at first, trickling
down between the stems,
getting into the works
where a robin would tick
all winter. We looked on
before heading home.


***


Early autumn,
and today the sun’s
a depleted core,
but warm enough to throw
a smokescreen down
among the tangled briars


that hide where the steps
were, and where clusters
of fruit are left to ripen -
no rot or ruin as yet -
though soon the tide will turn
and the berries begin to fester


if left unpicked. This crop
we’ll harvest through
memory alone -not
trespass – or through
imagination, how
the ripest offered up


themselves for picking
without resistance,
almost to invite the theft;
how easy it was to lift
a jewel from its setting,
like those two faux pearls


my mother let me unclasp,
which, like the berries,
seemed on the cusp
and ripe for plucking.
Sometimes I hurried,
as if being watched.


All the other jewels,
the reds and the greens,
we left alone to ripen,
or left to perish.
As dusty as an ash can
in there today, and as plush –


how, once, deeper in
a covert than we had wished,
in a patch of sun,
a butterfly came to rest
on my sleeve, a cabbage
white, still as a wrist watch,


one stopped for ever,
or water becoming still;
there, among the embers,
in the sun and smoke,
the dust motes glinting
like infinitesimal


galaxies, the steps
still in view, and nothing
moving, no tremor
of fibrillation, nothing,
I felt at one remove
from myself, not there at all


except to be forgotten,
one thing ceding to another,
one purpose giving way
to the next, the others
who would follow in our wake,
come like us to pick


blackberries, their own names
forgotten in time
after leaving the wood
by the way they came,
numbering the steps aloud,
as other ghosts had done.


 

🌷 (2)

◄ TWO-WAY FAMILY FAVOURITES (repost, much altered)

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