I was nineteen when you were born.
Waiting for you shortened that first scary
winter term away from home.
I saw you only hours old, little brother,
two weeks late; wrinkled skin, big feet.

Now it’s me that’s running late. I catch up
with you at six, but find you’ve just turned eight.
I’ve tracked your growing up, but not come close
to making out your boy things, your reserve.
Just the other day you caught me watching.
‘What?’ you growled. And to my questions
answered ‘stuff’, ‘dunno’ and ‘s’alright’.
I sneaked around your room in school time
compiled a list, to find you in the way your ‘stuff’
fits together. But I’m no nearer.

I nose through memories, make another list:
At two you pulled off all my castor-oil plant’s leaves.
At five I taught you ‘Three Blind Mice’ on lettered piano keys.
(Now one finger drums the tune to ‘Mission Impossible’).
I’ve brushed your teeth, had baths with you. Read you stories.
Pushed you in your pram, on the swing, on your bike.
Carried you on my shoulders, on my back, in my arms.
I’ve written four poems about you
and known you for ten years.
When I visit, you say (but not to me) you want me to stay.
Goodbye is standing on each other’s feet.

Published in Kin: Scottish Poems about Family, ed. Hamish Whyte (Polygon: 2009)