Gradient – Alice Stainer

Gradient

A glorious day, Dad, as you would say
(that always made us snigger, did you know?)
……………Pull on your boots—you do still need them? —
……………army surplus from the funny shop in Hotwells.
……………We scoffed, but you said they were ‘value for money’.
Come on then, Dad—there’s a hill needs climbing.
Plastic-pocketed map bouncing on my chest—
I’ve learned its language as you did, and more:
zigzag up a slope,
…………..flex with the contours,
……………………….pick your way over hummocks.
………………………………….Skirt the bog
……………………….but don’t cry over lost wellies.
………….Vivid green patches have a forked tongue.
Heather helps you to hang on.
There’s one path I have yet to find, Dad—
but I will. I will.
…………..Right, binoculars slung round my neck—
…………..chance of a ptarmigan, wouldn’t you say?
…………..Those chubby boulders of bird.
Once, Mum and I saw a whole flock—
consolation, we thought, for a stumbling day
when the cloud came down.
I remembered, you see, what you said about the hills.
…………Now bog myrtle is spicing the air.
…………Hurry up, Dad! We have got all day but still,
…………this clarity of sky is precious.
…………Mete it out like Kendal mint cake in the high places.
My turn to lead the way—although in truth,
you’ve climbed this hill ahead of me,
…………and now will never leave it.

Alice teaches English Literature to visiting students in Oxford and is an active musician and dancer. She has only recently begun to publish her work, found in Poetry and Covid, Green Ink Poetry, Steel Jackdaw and 192 Magazine amongst other places, and won the 20/21 Gloucestershire Poetry Society competition. Find her on Twitter @AliceStainer

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