He cannot bend to tie his shoe.
I stoop to make the knot
that takes me back
to when he carried fully grown men
down stairs in the middle of the night
found them in floods or snowdrifts
hauled them up cliffs on stretchers
pulled them out of sheughs and bogs
all in a day’s work
he held mothers’ hands in ambulances
gave the kiss of life
in porches, on roadsides
delivered babies in toilets
of country bars long after closing.
At home he bathed us on a Saturday night
bent over the tub, sleeves rolled up
arms covered in suds
told stories of him as a boy
when once he cycled twenty miles to run a race
and won, then cycled twenty home.
His back, a solid Irish oak,
bent, moved, straightened
to each particular need.
Now its knots tell the years
of a thousand people who leant on him
shoulders that carried other people’s lives
as well as his own.
He cannot bend to lace his shoe
and I have learned to make the loop.