Ascending a Liberties Stairway in 1952

Slate-grey steps with white ribbed bone to steady the foot
with the marks of the washerwoman’s knees
and a black iron snake to hold on to
as it coiled its way upwards,
polished smooth from the caress of hands;
and the concrete landing
where we stopped to catch our breath
and a glimpse of the stars
through a rectangular opening in an ash-grey wall
which to its side housed a handled steel door,
a chute to the Great Bin
at the bottom of the stairs,
locked in a room of its very own
where it could overflow to its heart’s content
and still take more,
the extractor of all the Liberties’ ills;
and the automatic light
suddenly quenched itself on the landing
– we were overstaying our time
watching the stars twinkle –
and my baby sister cried from the darkness

as we continued our ascent.
I helped my mother tilt and lift;
I could hear her heavy breathing,
each slow tortuous step its own individual,
our very own little Calvary.
The baby cried again:
‘Hush now, we’re nearly there alanna,’ said Mam,
but we were only halfway up with the pram.

published in Red Hot Fiesta, Ragged Raven Press, 2001.

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