old winter falls

winter-walk

Old slushy pavement slips away
from my feet too quick. I reach
out for invisible support, afraid
I will catch someone
with my uncontrolled motion

but I stumble to a harmless
halt, just an object for cold
shoppers to process
past. To exit the flow I wade slow
into gutter white snow, untrodden,

deep and soft, and even
welcoming. Here are no strangers
sliding, colliding towards me. I
can hold true to my course
without pause for negotiation

that I could not honestly face
where I am head. I am undistracted,
unanxious until, passing among
the strangers who pass me
by, is a ghost of someone

wrapped up in thick, old winter
wool. My ghost is decorated
with a berry-pink scarf
neatly tied like a festive ribbon
round a bottle of the season

or tongues of tinsel round the tree
from my first Christmas shop. I am
silent and small. The tree is
taller than stairs or even
a whole hospital of children.

Boys jeering, girls clapping in lines
either side of the playground
slide. I start the long run up until
I see the ice, try to stop too soon
and fall short. A coward’s humiliation.

And then someone coughs as you
cough, sending blue breath whisting
high into the air like a release
of summer sky. My wheezing lungs
long for the chance of warm reunion.

I imagine I am glad to see you
now and we hug and briefly
kiss. But we start to slip and slide
too fast. Now all my gladness
beats on my chest with worry

and I can see only shadows, twice
your length but ephemeral
in the winter sun. So we pass
with no collision, no touch
and no physical memory,

with coats fastened and collars turned
up, a hat angled snugly, precisely
at your height. I show no recognition
of that distinctive stride, boots
distracted in the slush. I am sorry.

I know you often are unsteady
so I should watch closely and take
care. I should try to keep up, within
yards of time-worn shoulders clutching
a slung brown bag swinging free

into the road. A pale figure pedals
inches from my grasp, nearly
knocking me down. If I should reach
and catch someone, will it be you
and will you fall? Or will it just be me?

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