Posted by: John Looker | 27 August, 2014

How to Climb


Photo with permission from Tom Stevens. Copyright @tstevensphotos

How To Climb

Step 1: begin.
You have no choice, begin.

And soon you find
(step two or three?)
you know about faces.

Next, that ‘me’ and ‘you’ are not the same
and this is startling.

But stranger still that all those ‘you’
are not the same.

Climb on, climb farther.
To stand – to learn to walk – is joy, exhilaration,
it’s “look at Me!”
But falling is disaster;
worse, Betrayal.

Climb on. And one of the steepest steps,
after you’ve crayoned the wall

– again! –
or bitten another child
is guilt, remorse,
and the pretty bird gone.


© John Stevens 2014

Photo with permission from Tom Stevens
Copyright @tstevensphotos

For this and other photos by Tom Stevens see:

I love this photograph. It’s really a poem in itself and it was the photo that came first.


  1. Aah, that photo is sublime, I can see why it inspired you, John. In this world where speed seems to be the only virtue, it’s good to read much needed primers like yours. Thank you!


    • So glad the photo made the same impression on you as it did on me, Elaine. Thank you.


  2. So precise and pointed, particularly pleasing!


  3. Wonderful that a photograph can inspire the story of how we grow up and become aware of others, of betrayal and of loss. And told without fanfare, without too many words, just enough detail to evoke without telling.Thank you.


    • I’m reminded of your own poem, Kalila (the recent one about the hopes felt for a new-born baby) which I very much liked.


  4. “Crayoned the wall–again!–” just about says it all.(though the cannibalism wasn’t too nice, either). And the guilt, the remorse…natural, or imposed? Only the pretty bird knows for sure, and, alas, it’s gone. Now I’m humming that old song: “There’s a long, long trail a-winding…..”

    Truly lovely, John


    • Well, I guess I must have been a worse-behaved child than you, Cynthia! 🙂 Maybe I’ll be more civilised once I’ve grown up.
      Meanwhile, thank you for your kind comment.


  5. That climb we all have to do, the discovery of the others, and thereby the discovery of yourself as an individual, also so true how difficult the climb can be. The fall is betrayel, so it must seem. ( I was surprised by “bitten another child…” how many in total??) Love the photo, it goes very well with the poem, which makes sense as it inspired you to write it 🙂


    • I’m pleased that you too loved the photo Ina. It was certainly an inspiration!


  6. This is true of life, yes. I enjoy how this poem seems like a stairway, the way it’s written. I feel the faltering in it, the falling down after reaching a great height, or realization. What’s the old saying…one step forward, two steps back? I often feel this way in my life — always falling, getting up again. I enjoyed this poem.


  7. A wonderful photograph John, and your words complement it perfectly.
    I wandered off to reminisce after reading it 🙂
    And the stairs are still there – we need to keep climbing



    • Hello David. Bit of a slog at times, isn’t it ?! 🙂


  8. John, wonderful, poetic description of childhood, growing up – and also the perfect metaphor for humanity in general, as we continue to (hopefully) grow and evolve. (And I love the photo!)


    • Thank you Betty. I think the photo has made the same impression on you as it did on me. Inspiring, isn’t it?


  9. “To stand – to learn to walk – is joy, exhilaration,
    it’s “look at Me!”
    But falling is disaster;
    worse, Betrayal.”

    soar and crash…


    • Yes, that’s Life isn’t it Evelyn? Although I believe “to crash and soar again” is equally true of Life. Thank you for visiting again.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. John… I am addding this link for you to check out a text which reminds me of yours and I believe has a similar approach as well. Regards, Aquileana 🙂
    Instructions for climbing a staircase–Julio Cortázar:


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