'The Steps' is a beautiful poem by Liz Berry, whose first full collection, Black Country, is out with Chatto & Windus next month.
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And this is where it begins, love –
you and I, alone one last time in the slatey night,
the smell of you like Autumn, soil and bonfire,
that November the fourth feeling inside us.
There can be no truer wedding than this:
your bare hand in mine, my body winded
with pain, as you lead me to the car, to the
soon life. And we are frightened, so frightened –
Who will we be when come back?
Will we remember ourselves?
Will we still touch each other’s faces
in the darkness, the white noise of night
spilling over us, and believe there is nothing
we could not know or love?
— by Liz Berry, from The Emma Press Anthology of Motherhood
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Emma's thoughts. The line from this poem which has really stayed with me is 'There can be no truer wedding than this'. It was echoed in a conversation with a pregnant friend recently and it popped up again during my weekend at the Southbank Centre's Festival of Love, which is a celebration of the legalisation of same-sex marriage. Both times I wondered what this line implies about the formal institution of marriage. It seems to say that having a child together is more meaningful than exchanging wedding vows, but I also read it as reclaiming the meaning and power of the word 'wedding' from all the formalities: if this tense, thrilling night is a true wedding, what else is also a wedding? What other shared, profound experiences could be considered weddings?
Your thoughts. We had some fantastic responses this week! Maggie recognised the fear and seismic changes described in the poem as similar to her friends' recent experience on having their first child, commenting 'I find Liz's lines moving and elegant. Her musing on the nature of love and the anticipation of what the future may bring ring so true.'
Sarah Parkinson also identified closely with the feeling described in the poem: 'That almost pleading question of 'who will we be?' grabs at my stomach even now, and we have been parents for ten years! And it's not just a question of the 'me' but, just as importantly, of the 'us', the we that produced the child – can we still have the relationship that we had before?'
Heather Walker drew out the darker implications of lines 2-4, which 'to me, speak of endings, the poem set as it is in autumn and in particular, November when things are slowing down and stop.' Like Maggie, she was struck by the way the poem captures the enormity of this new stage of life: 'Motherhood changes everything and there is indeed a death of a former life, that carefree, no responsibility life, which is why I love the line 'and we are frightened'. So, so true!'
And finally, Alison Brackenbury observed 'It catches an experience which I don't remember seeing in a poem before', which is something I had also felt might be true (do let me know if you can think of any others). Alison added: 'It doesn't skimp on the pain, but also brings that great rush you do feel at certain times of your life, which can be forgotten under a welter of bills and lost school socks.'
The winner of this week's 'Most thoughtful commenter' is... Sarah Parkinson!
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|The Emma Press Anthology of Motherhood|
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