Passing Frances on the Stairs / Tree Preserveration Order
by Gill Nicholson (nee Brighton)


She willed herself up the stone staircase
puritanically refusing the banister,
forcing an extra shove of energy
into each step,
as if her soft Quaker shoes
had sprung heels.
Her breath must have caught in her throat
dried her mouth.

Fifteen steps to the first landing
then fifteen more
to her sitting room door,
a brief glance, a set smile
for us kids leaping up and down stairs
two at a time,
regardless then, not realising the cost to her.

When she had her stroke
she lingered in a confused state,
her disappearance a shadow
of that grey determined
haul up the main staircase,
not remembered for what she had become
but for the steadfast presence
she had always been.



The wealthy brewer never saw
stacks of stone crushing the perennial border
where, in spring we children fought ground elder
for the sake of poppies and lupins he'd planted.

Or earthmovers gouging our paths
to make pits for new foundations
their giant caterpillar tracks in the
lawn where we read propped on our elbows,
rolled about wrapped in our rugs.

Rain films my hair, clouds my glasses.
I stumble over rubble, look into the old ballroom
where we assembled, not for hymns or prayers,
but for poetry
or recorded music,
played with sandpaper sharp fibre needles.

Through cement spattered windows
I barely make out the wrought iron stairway,
its lowest flight, twenty stone steps,
mahogany banister pegged to stop sliding.
Here I twisted my ankle leaping two-at-a-time
hoping for a letter from home.

Now these spacious interiors
are a speculator's triumph:
stainless fitted kitchens and mezzanines
built to dazzle the fattest purse.

The wealthy brewer's daughter,
ousted by war and death,
felt the same:
her onyx bathroom stripped, marble sold;
her cosy nursery, a dormitory
ranked with iron, grey-blanketed bunks;
utility chairs scouring polished parquet;
stone fire surrounds chipped, dog grates cold;
her secret columbine garden neglected
its vandalised shrubs, crude dens;

our voices carried on the wind
invading her York stone mini mansion
only half a mile away.

There's a preservation order on the trees:
a steeple wellingtonia
bark fibrous as rotten wood;
a darkly spreading yew;
hard grey beeches scarred
by lopped limbs.

When couples come to take up residence
in their butterfly luxury apartments
or bijou two bedded villas
what voices will they hear as they saunter
round the pavilioned pool?

Not the brewer's infant daughter,
as her daddy carries her
in its warmed waters
while visitors whisper by honeyed pergolas
drinking tea from porcelain,
the fountain cockade splashing.
Nor our screams as, at seven in the morning
we jump naked into its freezing depths.

But they will, surely, know the trees:
the wellingtonia's burnt-umber bark
down slide of its evergreen canopy;
sickly jelly-red of yew berries
splattered by blackbirds on the sterile underfloor;
uncurling beech leaves, their green glow
casting shadows over each new little house
and its allotted garden,
their spiky beech nuts spoiling new-laid lawns.

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