Young man descending

Caroline Kemp

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
dark eyes
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
    slow footfall

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
breathes heavily
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

Oh   Sussana
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
Wholly gone

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
Farewells said.

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
fingers gliding

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
breathing     easy
in the homely air
back    sighing long
     back         back          where I belong

Caroline Kemp

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.

Poem of the Month full list

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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.