He stood at the top of the stairs


insisting he could go down himself

but, like a frightened bullock refusing

the crush, his body wouldn’t move

from the spot where I used to sit

in the dark listening to rows in the kitchen

when my mother showed him the bill

from the shop. He stood at the top

of the stairs in a fever that came on him

as fast as nightfall in winter,

steep, narrow steps between him

and the ambulance ticking

outside the back door.

He stood there in checked pyjamas

and thick Wellington socks,

in the house where he was born

and had sworn he would never leave.

I held him from behind

my brother in front

coaxing with a tenderness

I’d never seen between them,

come on Dad, just one step, one step.

Jane Clarke

from When the Tree Falls (Bloodaxe Books, 2019)

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