I am pulled back to a moment in 1914 as Hugh descends the staircase
making his way slowly down lengthening the minutes
Barely into his twenties his photo shows
off camera unable to meet my eye
trying for a smile
I see him caught on the stairs
hesitant holding the moment foot on the treads
His lawyer's fingers on the smooth grain sliding down
his awkward hat firm
buttons straight body warm
not wanting to say farewell.
Oh Sussana wie ist das Leben noch so schön
Oh Sussana wie is das Leben schön
Sussana eldest sister
trying to keep you in her eyes in her sight
Trying to remember each contour of your face
I miss you now I miss you dear
I miss you now when you are here
heart beating to the warm rhythm of the morning house
the house that gives up its youngest son
fingers lingering on the stairs
I will be back mother I will be back
His hands losing their grip on the stairs
Oh son sharp intake of breath you look so smart.
I cannot say the words I fear
my boy my boy you are too dear
I will not let you go holding him tight
Arms empty fingers slack
Do not worry, mother, I will be back
In the bedroom neat abandoned
his work clothes wait
Sussana runs her fingers over the blankets still warm
Room full of absence
Nearly at the hall still holding the moment the quiet beat of the moment
I do not think I should go
His feet moving forward unwilling I am not going stomach falling
feet pushing forward going on moving towards the door
A crack in his chest near his heart
I will be back mother I will I will
The door clipped shut the ache for home.
The day shivering
The moment gone
Sussana empty in the stillness
The field in France the end of November the earth cold
Winter biting in
Hugh's heart beats to a different rhythm the rhythm of the cold field
the sinking rhythm of the cold earth
The crack echoes again.
I feel his fingers moving slowly on the staircase
How beautiful is life Sussana
I told you I would come home.
His fingers slipping over the banister
Floating by the bedroom door
I told you I told you
I told you I would come home
Warm presence hovering
in the homely air
back sighing long
back back where I belong
Caroline Kemp is a Scottish writer, living and working in the North East. She is a full time carer, trying to carve out space in her very hectic life to write. She continues to be involved in research work in health, currently focussing on how to involve people in research and also evaluating people's journey in the mental health system.
She has been published in journals, including The Journal of Progressive Sciences, Rethink, Material, in various Forward Press anthologies, and on websites including the tribute to Julia Darling.
Caroline's current work in progress is a translation of her German grandmother's diary which begins on August 1st, 1914. The war diary is juxtaposed with present day reflections, incorporating prose/poetry prompted by family history across different times. She is also preparing a pamphlet called My Parrot, my monkey, my dear frog: these are mainly poems on various artists and writers, like her previous Poem of the Month, Mr. Turner.
She says: "This poem was inspired by Hugh Maxwell Hutchison, who lived in my house in 1914. He died, aged 23 in the mud in France, fatally wounded by an enemy shell explosion. I feel his presence on the stairs. When we first moved here the girls said there was a ghost and I kept saying there was not one... I thought it was my dear mother... I keep thinking of Hugh leaving the house for the last time and not wanting to let him go... then I think of my young grandson and that it could be him and cannot bear it. I wrote the poem so we hold him in our memory... such a sacrifice... I pray our grandchildren never see war.
Caroline's earlier Poem of the Month was April in the Ha Ha.
Follow the link for a list of other Poems of the Month.
Young man descending © 2017 Caroline Kemp: used with permission.
Copyright of this poem remains with the poet: please do not download or republish without permission.