Back when Arden could still climb our stairs
- sharply pitched, turning near the top,
the sort old carpenters modelled on the stairways of ships -
he’d follow Paul up to his study, shadow me
up for socks or a clean shirt. Even if I went upstairs only
for a minute, he’d wheeze and labour on the narrow steps,
and arrive out of breath, proud of himself,
and collapse on the rug before coming down again.
Up and down, all day. At night, he wanted to sleep
in his bed at the foot of ours, wanted it so badly
the pressure intensified the climb,
what, with the tall risers and his gimpy hind legs. So he cried,
and fussed, and tried, gave up and went away, came back
and tried again. If he couldn’t make it on his own,
I’d get up and help him, lifting his front paws
and setting them into place, then my hands under his hips;
the stairwell would smell of his anxiety: bodily,
familiar, slightly acid. Once he could no longer climb
something so awkward, it was as if he’d forgotten
he ever wanted to; he’d wedge his muzzle
into a hole he’d made in the sliding screen door,
push it to the left, and sleep all night in the garden,
on the gravel beneath the spread of a Montauk daisy.
Why can’t I hold on to that image: the dreamer
beneath black leaves and a spatter of summer stars?
Indelible, that old man scent,
the fear that makes the stairway steeper.
-The Stairs, by Mark Doty