for Kenneth at fifty
Your fear, at four, of the dark
is a family tale we hear again.
You’re “sensitive”, always were.
I’ve got “commonsense”, at two.
I’m walking down the airless passage to your room,
holding your hand, pulling up a chair,
climbing on it, switching on the light,
then checking under the bed to show you
there is no more dark, the dark is dead.
Both frightened of the dark,
of being crippled,
of our father who did art in heaven,
of rough boys on the street,
of sinkholes, of sounds outside,
of mother being unhappy.
But we had a pact, a deal,
humouring the fears, giving them shape.
One was scared, the other brave,
so that next time the roles could swop.
Long ago I climbed that chair,
my first chance to manage fright,
pretend that all was well
to get us through the southern night.
And now its middle-age. You’re in the north.
where dark comes early,
seals the foreign cold.
Your turn to switch the light.