A Poem by Linda Gregerson: ‘Stagger’


Three, I thought,
                               or four at the most
               to judge
                               by all the signs we never

know we’ve socked away as mother
                               memory, maybe
                               no longer a toddler, but not

so far removed as would have
                               lengthened his stride and still
               a toddler-like ratio
                               of torso to head so I was

baffled why
                               was he walking like that was he
               wounded there
                               was rubble in the street no

people no
                               others I mean who might
               have picked him up and offered
                               comfort whoever it was

with the videocam preferring
                               to capture
               footage instead how else
                               could the rest of us take it in.

The shot
                               was from behind, that is
               the camera shot, but later
                               on the news which means

there must have been two of them,
​​​​​​​                               real time, in the ravaged
               town, with
​​​​​​​                               cameras, they screened

the same five seconds, frontally.
​​​​​​​                               I had not, said
               the pilgrim in the underworld,
​​​​​​​                               I had not thought death … undone …


The miracle is
​​​​​​​                               that some of us should be allowed
               to live at a distance from active
​​​​​​​                               harm. Illusory distance, I’ll

grant you. Still.
​​​​​​​                               The slender man, for instance, fishing
               cardboard from the Camden Council drop-off
​​​​​​​                               bin, stout

cardboard, good for sleeping on,
​​​​​​​                               he’s not about to cross the street and
               demand my purse though
​​​​​​​                               God knows in any rational world

the money I spent to pay for the chair that came
​​​​​​​                               in the box would be his
               already. His before
​​​​​​​                               I walked in the shop to buy the

​​​​​​​                               The sirens in the street last night,
               they weren’t for me.
​​​​​​​                               The fires are safely elsewhere.

For the moment,
​​​​​​​                               I’ll grant you.

We’re told the asbestos has been removed.


You’ve seen with what wonder, if your life
​​​​​​​                               has been a blessed one,
               the youngest among us begin to explore
​​​​​​​                               that friable boundary. Self

and world.
​​​​​​​                               The perpetual astonishment
               of moving parts. The toes
​​​​​​​                               you can feel from both

sides when you
​​​​​​​                               put them in your mouth.
               And quickly in succession then:
​​​​​​​                               the rolling over, four-part locomotion

in its apt improvisations, and at last
​​​​​​​                               upright:
               triumphant prospect of everything-at-
​​​​​​​                               hand.

Long interval,
​​​​​​​                               if all goes well, before the third part
               of the riddle.
​​​​​​​                               You may have seen,

if you’ve been blessed
​​​​​​​                               to keep them long enough,
               your older loved ones beginning to alter
​​​​​​​                               their gait. Less

confident on stairs, uneven
​​​​​​​                               pavement. And have thought,
               as we are meant to do, we are not here
​​​​​​​                               forever. This

was different. This
​​​​​​​                               was something we hope only
               to encounter in dithyrambs,
​​​​​​​                               made stately by the chorus, concerning

a king or someone otherwise
​​​​​​​                               likely
               to be as guilty as we are. But
​​​​​​​                               the boy was three.

Four at the most.
​​​​​​​                               I’d thought
               the masks they wore at Epidaurus were
​​​​​​​                               hyperbole, meant chiefly to be seen

from the topmost seats.
​​​​​​​                               But grief can do what art
               can only bow before. The child was wild
​​​​​​​                               with grief.

This poem appears in the December 2022 print edition.



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