Last Dance
by Jen Emery

My father is helping my mother down the stairs,
face to face, him a step below her
so that they’d be eye to eye, save
that my mother is head down, eyes trained
to a spot on the carpet behind his corduroy knees.

As for my father, his eyes never leave
my mother’s face. His big hands cup
her elbows, and her fingers grip his forearms,
as though they’re about to embark on a wild reel
on a five, six, seven, eight …

My father steps back, shoes toeing each tread
before lowering, down and away from her, leading her on
with the slightest lift of his arms to bring her back
towards him – down and forwards, forwards and down –
his ears and neck flushed red from the exertion.

Almost there and she skips a beat – falters,
tightens her grip, stays on her feet.
Have I ever let you fall, Kathleen?
My father lifts his chin.
In fifty seven fecking years – have I ever let you fall?

PAINTING: Tango by Frantisek Kupka (1909).

 NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This poem makes me happy-sad. I was sitting on the sofa in my parents’ house just after lockdown ended, drinking a glass of wine, and thinking how much we’d all aged. The light was falling through the hall as they came down the stairs together, and there was something so sad, so ordinary and so beautiful about the scene. I wanted to write about it, but struggled at first to really make it live. The idea of the dance helped hugely – we grew up going to ceilidhs – as did a late decision to include my dad’s (very direct!) direct speech at the end.

Emery copy

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jen Emery thinks, writes, and speaks about work and life in all its messy beauty. Her poetry has been published in magazines, including Atrium, Brittle Star, and The Interpreter’s House, and her short story in verse, Songs of Snow and Silence, was published by Atmosphere Press in 2021. She blogs at jenemery.com. Born and raised in Edinburgh, she now lives in London with her family and two unruly dogs. She works in the City but much prefers sonnets to spreadsheets.