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
as we climbed,
numbering each aloud,
as if over time
their number would change,
our 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
cleared of any 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, not trespass, how
the ripest offered up
themselves for picking,
almost to invite the theft;


how easy it was to lift
a jewel from its setting
and watch as its lights
slowly began to fade,
as if an eyelid
had begun to close.

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, as still as a wrist watch

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
to 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 loud,
as our own ghosts had done.



🌷 (3)

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



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Tony Hill

Thu 31st May 2018 14:26

So pleased you like the poem, Frances. It is about loss, of course. It was the practice of my mother's family to lay the deceased in the 'good room' overnight before the burial service. I was required at a young age to kiss a number of dead bodies. This left an impression, as you can imagine. Ghosts in one form or other often crop up in my poems. Were I to psychoanalyse myself, I would conclude that those early experiences have cast a long and sombre shadow into my adult life. Tony

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Frances Macaulay Forde

Thu 31st May 2018 12:02

I don't understand how I missed this one yesterday.
A beautifully sad precis on the Winter of our lives., when we lose a partner, we somehow go back to an Autumn and the leaves dying... no Spring or Summer.
So rich and layered, I shall read this over and over, savouring slowly, each time, as your words demand.
Thank you, Tony.

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