“All My Falling Women” by P.W. Bridgman

ALL MY FALLING WOMEN*

(For my mother, and for John Swanson)


I. How to descend narrow stairs

You prepare by
angling the body—
and thus the feet—
to the right. Then…

You find a hand grip,
somewhere.

You move
cautiously.

You place your feet on the stair treads
with the toes pointing
right.

You do not allow
your purchase to lessen
by permitting the toes (or more)
to point forward, projecting out
over the edge of a narrow
stair.

You descend slowly
(but not too slowly), and
confidently.


II. To me it all seemed a bit much, then

As a seven-year-old, I thought my mother’s
cautious way of descending the stairs
in our little house
did seem a bit
much.


III. The birth of mio incubo ricorrente

As a nine-year-old
I once saw a friend’s mother fall.
She was rushing about, frantically—tidying
newspapers and toys before Melvin’s seething,
always-angry dad got home from
work.

She caught her toe on the edge of the carpet
and fell down
hard.

Though I couldn’t really
understand why, on my way home I
cried.

This became my recurring
night terror, mio
incubo ricorrente.

Women
falling.

My mother
falling.

My mother’s precautions,
I then realized,
weren’t a bit much
at all.


IV. Strangers are not strangers (not really)

As a thirty-five-year-old
I once noticed an older woman
walking on a sidewalk. She was
wearing a red scarf. I saw her
while I was driving home from
work.

She was making her way along
the north side of West 12th Avenue,
passing a park, a few blocks west of
Arbutus.

This woman was
unknown to me—a
stranger.

I saw her catch her toe on something
and fall down
hard.

I stopped the car and
ran to
help.

I tried to calm her,
to stop the blood flowing
from her face and scalp
with a sleeve torn from my
shirt.

I asked a pedestrian
to run to a nearby house
and get someone to
please call an
ambulance.

“She’ll be fine,”
the paramedic told me later
as I cradled her head.
“You can go
now.”

Once I was back in my car, I
cried.


V. Cautious ways are rewarded

My mother never had a serious
fall.

Not, at least, until 1998 when—
at the appointed age for all the matriarchs
in her family dating back generations (75)—
she fell from this earth,
straight up:

more sensed than seen,
swept up through the window,
out and skyward into an
inky darkness worthy of
Chagall.


VI. Il mio incubo riemerge nell’esperienza vissuta

Today I am sixty-
seven.

While L and I were out
walking together this afternoon,
she caught the toe of her shoe on
something.

(Was it the edge of a sidewalk panel
forced up by tree roots? I don’t
know.)

She fell down
hard.

I didn’t see it
coming.

And I couldn’t stop it
happening.

It was a “lucky fall”—
no broken bones, no sprains—
but there were scrapes
and shock. Broken glasses.
And she felt nausea and
faintness.

“Still,” she said, “I am
very lucky. I’ll be
fine.”

“Yes,” I
agreed.

And yet.

Back home—after
cleaning up the scrapes
with alcohol swabs
and placing bandages
carefully on knee and wrist—
once I was alone
in the bathroom, I
cried.


VII. L’incubo si ripete ancora e ancora

The bad dream,
the recurring night terror,
l’incubo, is never far
away.

In it, the women I love,
and some I don’t know
(strangers who aren’t strangers)

keep

falling

and

falling.


VIII. I am a bit much myself

My grandson (“Mr. O”) watches me closely
as, carefully but confidently,
I descend the narrow stairs
from my study (where many boring
books without pictures live, he knows,
but also, the
computer).

I’m sure that this little performance
by his Nonno seems, to him,
a bit
much.

“It’s okay, Mr. O,”
I tell him. “You can go on
ahead. But, be
careful.”


IX. An unspoken lesson learned

And so it
goes.

(And so, indeed, it has gone
since I was
nine.)

I learned by my mother’s example
and I learned
well.

I prepare for every descent
(except the big one into oblivion)
by angling my body—
and thus my feet—
to the right.
(The opposite of my
politics!)

I find a grip,
somewhere.

I move
cautiously.

I place my feet on the stair treads
with my toes pointing
right.

I do not allow
my purchase on them to lessen
by permitting my toes (or more)
to project forward, out over
the edge of a
stair.

I descend slowly, but not too slowly, and
confidently. (Success is not
guaranteed, but risk is
lessened.)

And yet, when it comes
to the big question of falling,
I am far from out of the
woods.


X. All my falling women

Still, I must not let myself forget that
when I awaken in a clammy sweat
(as I did this morning), I more
and more quickly remember now that it was a dream,
that no one has really fallen—and that, well,
once my pounding heart has again regained its grip,
this latest night terror, too, will
lift.

And once it has lifted, I will lean over
(as I always do) and kiss L’s sleeping
forehead.

I will say a prayer for my
mother.

I will say a prayer for L,
and for Melvin’s mom whose toe
caught the edge of the carpet,
and for that woman
who tripped on the sidewalk
on West 12th Avenue,
not far past Arbutus,
and for all the other nameless and
numberless women who, in my sleep,
I am powerless to
protect.

And if—
as one of us heads down our narrow stairs
tomorrow to make the morning espresso—
there is momentary inattention, a misstep,
I know that my mother’s example
(her almost hand) will guide us:
Angle right, feet right. No guarantees,
but…

Her almost hand—beckoning, guiding—
will steady our every descending footfall.

But not, alas, the dreamsteps of all my falling
dreamwomen.

Not even her
own.


*Some text fragments in this poem have been borrowed from John Swanson’s collection of poetry and photography an almost hand, beckoning (San Francisco: Blurb Books, 2019).


P.W. BRIDGMAN’s most recent book—a selection of poems entitled A Lamb—was published by Ekstasis Editions in 2018. His poetry and fiction have appeared in, among other publications, Antigonish ReviewGrainMoth Magazine, Glasgow Review of Books, Honest Ulsterman, Galway ReviewLitro UK, Litro NY and The High Window.
Learn more at www.pwbridgman.ca.

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