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This week's featured poem is "Stay" by David Wheatley.

This week’s featured poem is “Stay” by David Wheatley.



“My precious child is coming down”
from the nurse’s arms

to resemble your mother’s

A heron near its nest.


and unpacking its legs

A newborn infant was delivered by a crawling mother.

The fall season craves darkness.

You tap your feet in the space.



This refers to the times of day when the sun rises and sets, respectively.
rub backs in the trough

“Son of mine during the winter season.”

Whisper your name quietly.


with fluttering tongue

After spending a considerable amount of time in the throbbing.
tunnel all walls
are theatre curtains parting


between one breast and the next
you defy with a fallen-
limp fist the single
bedroom that is the world


is of length

This is the tree with a shadow that has a certain length.

Moving across the bed.

It will follow a path like a visually impaired individual.

Please provide your features here.


One drop of milk.

brushing against the side of your face until

“It is untrue when I divert my gaze.”
only to reenter


the moment from the echoing
return its return

The promise’s shell will be fulfilled and its return will be given back.

Your child is currently staying with you.

The genie is represented by the lamp and yourself.

Wheatley’s latest collection, titled Child Ballad, pays homage to Francis James Child, the American editor of the renowned 10-volume series The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, also known as The Child Ballads. In a playful manner, as seen in the title poem, and with great creativity, Wheatley’s poems fluidly navigate through both idiomatic and historical time. The Dublin-born writer seamlessly moves between Scots and English, with an underlying “Irish subsoil” that he mentions in his Carcanet blog as being present in many of his poems. In the same blog post, he elaborates on his choice of title, stating, “By naming my book Child Ballad, I intentionally merge poems about two young children with the essence of the ballad tradition, in a playful time-traveling fashion that effortlessly shifts between past and present.”

The heading also includes an additional aspect, that of the honorable title, “Childe” or “Child”, which originates from the Old English word “Cild” and translates to “young lord”. During the Medieval period, it referred to a nobleman’s son who had not yet earned his knighthood. It appears that “childe” is still utilized in the Doric dialect spoken in the northeastern region of Scotland, where Wheatley currently hunts.

Releasing his sixth anthology, he has undoubtedly earned his reputation as a writer, but it’s possible that no writer ever fully sheds their sense of learning and the thrill of improvement, especially when they are venturing into uncharted territory and emotional landscapes, as seen in Child Ballad. And, in this week’s featured poem, Stay, a real newborn child guides the parent on their journey with wide-eyed wonder.

To celebrate the arrival of their first son, Stay’s serious and numbered verses unite the human baby and non-human creatures, incorporating the present moment of the new addition with a dreamy and mysterious sense of adventure. The chosen season, autumn, is described as both “slowly advancing” and “voracious”, with the “beginning and end” personified as two animals, “pressing against each other in the depths / of winter”. While the elements may be wild, they are not particularly threatening: however, as winter looms, the intended recipient is no longer referred to as “my baby” or “baby” but rather the confidently masculine “my son”.

The child, a keen observer of their surroundings, is likened to a heron returning to its nest. After a brief pause, the child appears to unfold their legs, similar to the heron. As hunger sets in, the child opens their mouth, seemingly shaping their name with a fluttering tongue. Through the eyes of the child, we catch a glimpse of the world that is both gently amusing and slightly mysterious. The child sees all walls as theater curtains, separating one breast from the next.

The child’s actions may occasionally be energetic, but the expression “kick[ing] its heels” could just suggest a sense of boredom. In stanza five, the act of defiance is performed with a lazy and relaxed “fallen-/limp fist…”. While the stanzas with numbers seem to want to restrict the flow of the poem, the sentence structure often disregards the chance for a break or pause. However, this structure ultimately slows down the pace of the poem, allowing the reader to imagine or recall the cautiousness of being a new parent, with careful steps and hesitant, even trembling, handling.

In the sixth stanza, the tree’s shadow passing over the child’s bed could be seen as symbolic of the crucifixion, a common theme in lullabies about the nativity where the death of Christ is intertwined with his birth. However, in a poem and collection that often features nature as an active participant, I believe the tree is simply a tree and the shadow is just a shadow. The blind man’s gentle movements demonstrate a connection between creatures with different levels of sight. The symbol of grief is transformed into a sign of peace and happiness, as a single drop of milk accidentally leaves its mark on the child’s face.

As the poem ends, the previous enigma resurfaces and intensifies, as if the speaker is going through a rebirth of perception, “to return to / the moment from the reverberating / shell of its promise”. In a captivated gasp, the structure of the sentence breaks between questioning and asserting: “and will / it remain now that you, child, are / the lamp and you are the genie.” The use of “will” at the end of the line heightens its significance as a noun. The repetition of the magical verb “are” in the statement (“you, child, are / the lamp and you are the genie”) is more than just a wishful dream: it is a fiercely determined declaration. We now understand that the title itself serves as both a command and a plea: it expresses a deep desire for both the child and the “moment” of vision that the poem celebrates to “remain”.

Source: theguardian.com