“Slow Walk” by Charlotte Innes

Charlotte Innes


I take my father’s arm. 
We are about to embark on a long journey
across the lawn.
From hydrangea curling around the back door
to a Norway maple at the final edge.
Thirty-five yards. And then
thirty-five yards back again.
It takes an hour.
Each time I visit, I insist we walk,
some vague idea I have to keep him fit.
He’s always game, although the distance lessens.
Now, at ninety-seven,
he totters along with his two walking sticks,
refusing a walker, veering slightly left. 
I tug him gently back on track.
Alzheimer’s clouds his brain.
My goal is to have a talk as best we can.
I didn’t know that this was to be our last.
And I don’t remember much, except 
when I asked if he recalled where he grew up, 
he answered promptly, 16 Hittorfstrasse! 
with the triumphant look of a student 
who knows he got it right. No sign
that this was a place he was forced to flee.
England welcomed him 
and that’s where he wants to be.
Five months later, I’m on the plane.
He fell downstairs, filling his brain with blood.
They say he won’t last long, but he toughs it out 
for four more days. At 10 p.m., 
my stepmother gets a call.
We go to see him one last time.
His mouth is open wide like a baby bird’s
but he looks easy. The old traveler, 
almost ready for his final journey.
And how my father loved to travel. 
Summers, we camped in Europe’s outer reaches, 
Dubrovnik, Slovakia, Greece—though never fascist Spain.
We skied in Scotland, climbed in Wales,
hiked by the River Dove, the moors on Kinder Scout.
But he loved to be home. 
My stepmother had engraved on his headstone,
a granite rock from the local quarry,
the final line of Tennyson’s Ulysses
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield. 
Everything else, the difficult past, 
my angry years, the years we didn’t talk—
my family’s good at that—it all recedes,
dwindles down to the moment when
he heard my question, answered right,
pleased with himself, pleased with me.

from Rattle #83, Spring 2024


Charlotte Innes: “More and more, as I get older, almost every change seems like a loss, until I make a poem out of it. And then, bingo! Whatever the mood of the poem, angry or exultant, I’m out of jail. For a while, at least. Why? I don’t know. I suppose I’ll just have to keep writing.”

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