A Child in Winter

Blake Morrison

Where is the man who does not feel his heart
softened ... [by] these so helpless and so
perfectly innocent little creatures?

Cobbett

When the trees have given up
snowberries come into their own,
winter grapes, albino
settlers of the dark.

With their milky blobs
they lined our doorstep
that November dusk
we swung your basket

up the gravel-path
and home. Child Moses,
prince of the changing-mat,
heir of furry ducklings,

your babygros in drifts
on the clothes-rack,
we anoint your body’s
rashes and folds.

When you cry it’s like
some part of ourselves
breaking off and filling
these rooms with its pain.

Your breath’s a matchflame
certain to go out,
we’re at the cot hourly
holding our own.

In the shush of night-time
snowflakes crowd the window
like our own pale faces,
a shedding of old skins,

a blown seedhead,
paper pellets thrown down
by the gods to mark
your fiftieth day.

Lorries flounder on the hill.
We’re out there watching
with a babysling while
the world goes under wool.

Little one, limpet,
resented stranger,
who has no time for me
and does not know time,

your home’s the cradle
of a snowy hillfort
with pink turrets
and underground springs.

Daylight bores you: all night
you otter in our bed until
we wake to find you with us,
hands folded like a saint

accepting his death.
If it’s we who must die first
that seems less costly now,
having you here like wheat ...

Spring comes, measured
in light and celandines
and your first tooth, faint
as a rock at low tide,

headstone for these trials
with cottonbuds and nappies,
your silver lips tracking
for comfort in the dark.