Poetry International Poetry International
Poem

Katie Donovan

Carrying My Father Up the Stairs

Carrying My Father Up the Stairs

Carrying My Father Up the Stairs

When I see my baby’s pate
with its straggly hairs,
and her ears – the right one
sticking out – I’m put in mind
of my father, the same ear
permanently cocked,
on the same side
of a balding head.
Then there’s the lofty
vulnerable pose she assumes
while dozing, and
lately she has even started
his habit of chewing her tongue.
When I pick her up
on an evening
that finds me hazy with fatigue,
and carry her upstairs,
I could be lifting him.

I’ll take his spirit with me,
his courage and his civic pride,
his caring more than a damn
about the bigger picture.
I’ll leave his horsewhip of duty
at the foot of the stairs,
too often used
to stripe himself.
I’ll drop his guilt
like an old wrap
the moths have eaten through.
Better to keep
his natty look, his ready laugh,
his tender way with animals.

I’ll not bear his regrets –
it’s hard enough to shed my own –
and I’ll try to lose
his awkward hauteur,
though it sings around my head
like a swarm of flies,
getting between me
and the world’s heat.

I’ll never shed
the print of his loneliness,
how – caught between faultlines
of Irish, Scot, and ‘good English schools’ –
he could never be
the child of a tribe.

I lay my baby in her downy cot,
imagining my father, miles away,
tossing in his night-time sleeplessness,
his fine mind flayed with frets.
I wish the three of us –
root, branch and leaf –
harmony; protection; rest;
as I lurch, exhausted,
to my own bed.
Close

Carrying My Father Up the Stairs

When I see my baby’s pate
with its straggly hairs,
and her ears – the right one
sticking out – I’m put in mind
of my father, the same ear
permanently cocked,
on the same side
of a balding head.
Then there’s the lofty
vulnerable pose she assumes
while dozing, and
lately she has even started
his habit of chewing her tongue.
When I pick her up
on an evening
that finds me hazy with fatigue,
and carry her upstairs,
I could be lifting him.

I’ll take his spirit with me,
his courage and his civic pride,
his caring more than a damn
about the bigger picture.
I’ll leave his horsewhip of duty
at the foot of the stairs,
too often used
to stripe himself.
I’ll drop his guilt
like an old wrap
the moths have eaten through.
Better to keep
his natty look, his ready laugh,
his tender way with animals.

I’ll not bear his regrets –
it’s hard enough to shed my own –
and I’ll try to lose
his awkward hauteur,
though it sings around my head
like a swarm of flies,
getting between me
and the world’s heat.

I’ll never shed
the print of his loneliness,
how – caught between faultlines
of Irish, Scot, and ‘good English schools’ –
he could never be
the child of a tribe.

I lay my baby in her downy cot,
imagining my father, miles away,
tossing in his night-time sleeplessness,
his fine mind flayed with frets.
I wish the three of us –
root, branch and leaf –
harmony; protection; rest;
as I lurch, exhausted,
to my own bed.

Carrying My Father Up the Stairs

Sponsors
Gemeente Rotterdam
Nederlands Letterenfonds
Stichting Van Beuningen Peterich-fonds
Ludo Pieters Gastschrijver Fonds
Hendrik Muller fonds
Lira fonds
J.E. Jurriaanse
Literature Translation Institute of Korea
Partners
LantarenVenster – Verhalenhuis Belvédère