247 Readings

The Fiction We Make Between Us

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?








Posted 05/25/14
This poem appears in Burntdistrict, Winter 2014, Volume 3, Issue 1
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