One Step

By Betsy Sholl
Feature image: Towards the Forest I, 1897 by Edvard Munch

Who am I to say to the man: You can’t
sleep in corduroys and a dress shirt,

or: Don’t stick your fork in the potatoes,
spoon them onto your plate,

as I must have said more than once
to our children.

To the man I would have said: What does it
mean to be saved, and from what?

Or I’d ask about a friend’s blunder: How can
somebody so smart do such a dumb thing?

And he’d half smile, then shake his head,
Don’t you understand, it’s not about brains.

How can I tell this man: You can’t sleep
in anything that has a leather belt

or a wallet in its pocket, and, Here
are your pajamas, which he puts on

inside-out so the flannel pockets flap
like limp fins and he laughs

and flutters them a while before we start
again, right foot in right leg.

He laughs too at my schoolmarm self,
asks, How did you get so bossy?

Me, he once held through months of sorrow,
who without him might never have swum up

from those dark waters. Who am I now
that he is longer that man, and we

are something other than we ever
imagined? Saved, he would say,

in part from ourselves, whatever in us
is grasping, fearful, controlling.

Into what? I’d ask, and he’d roll his eyes,
knowing better than to answer.

Or he might say, as he did more than once:
Into gratitude, my dear. And: One step at a time.

As now, left foot into left leg.
And here is your night shirt, I say.

Do you want help buttoning?
Not yet, he says. Not yet.


Betsy Sholl’s ninth poetry collection is House of Sparrows: New & Selected Poems (University of Wisconsin, 2019). Her eighth collection, Otherwise Unseeable, won the 2015 Maine Literary Award for Poetry. She served as Poet Laureate of Maine from 2006 to 2011 and currently teaches in the MFA Program of Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Feature image: Photo: Dag Andre Ivarsøy / The National Museum

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