Her Spiral Stairs
The brownstone spiraled a nautilus up to me
when she returned from her shift at the wine bar.
On the bed, I listened for her through the century
of wallpaper, plaster and brick. Through the books
and movies pasted to the walls of my skull.
Beneath windows, the scrape of grit under shoes.
Most often a pair of soles dragged the quiet
of her street behind each step, but sometimes
a couple passed whose voices scuffed and tapped
their syllables along at ground-level like children
with sticks. This filled the horizon in my head
with an expanse not unlike a teenager
with a pipe before an ocean laden with stars. The stars
unbraiding from smoke he calls hope. And I wanted her
to walk through her door each time my boyhood welled up
from my torso. And I filled the passing sounds
with a bucketful of thoughts for her whenever
a couple of voices passed below. Very
similar things happened once or twice an hour,
when the brassy door pierced the foyer,
and up stood the hairs on my neck. And so I hoisted
such a workaday heft four stories, like a baby grand,
to the hungry, small bones in my ears. Her cats,
who wanted just as much to nuzzle her legs, knew
when the stairs held her exquisite shape.
When she returned, she wore the night
pinned in her hair. Until she let it fall on my chest,
where it curtained our faces from the streetlight.
Mostly I lay within her lamps
those nights, waiting with anecdotes
for how I followed the hours
along South Street. The Laundromat
where I watched the all-night scent
of her, debride from my sentiment, and spin
out through the gray water in the porthole.
The point of view a sinking ship affords,
if only I’d listened. The record store I entered
where the kids with patched sweatshirts
and smelly jeans slapped the jewel cases
with a dangerous grade of lust. The dusk
light un-tucked from shadow beneath the roofline,
as I walked out, admiring her city’s stretches
of row house, with their facades done like heartbreaks
of China and bottle glass. The mash-up her city made
of onion, cheesesteak and beer. The bus exhaust,
the whiskey breath, the shoulder bump
the guy in leather gave me, the mirror the cherry
blossoms made of the sidewalk, the metal rub
from the historical markers beneath my fingers,
the cobblestones along my insteps
tamped down two centuries ago. I epoxied a mosaic
of my own below her rooftops to tell her.
But mostly I listened with the cats
to the foyer’s hollow axis.
Those few nights I did not wait up for her
shift to end, I sat at a corner table
with a face for the intersection, I hoped,
like a man who parses his thoughts
while bumping his fingers along the rosary
of headlights and taillights. But really,
I was the guy taking in her face and hands
as they passed over the mahogany room.
She was beautiful yet she could have been, I know
now, anyone else who walked home to me. Sure,
in each hand a blossom of glasses. Sure,
below her slender wrist, the wine key’s pirouette.
Sure, I loved her lower lip, how she checked it
beneath her teeth as she balanced a tray.
Waiting for her to return to her apartment,
I watched braids of smoke rise from the fingers
of my right hand, a wish she might ascend
the stairs. As if we could will her to pass
through those doors, I said once, and the smoke
exhausted itself against her ceiling
of phosphorous stars. The cats clenched
their eyes with their noses.
Something in their expression mirrors
something in my limbic system. What is it
about spirals, the ones in her brownstone
as they held against the bones in my skull?
What is it about these gyres I float
while daydreaming about the moment,
the commotion of those moments,
she walked through her door?