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Diane Hueter Warner

She Stops on the Stairs and Looks Out the Window

Because this icy stairwell
is lit only by a harsh bare bulb
dangling like fruit from the high ceiling . . .
Because this stairwell landing is over
3,000 miles from home and the voices
on the telephone and the news the telephone brings . . .
Because the wallpaper was lovingly chosen
and carefully hung maybe twenty, maybe fifty years ago . . .

This is where the creaking house
still shows its age,
layers of wallpaper splayed open
like geological faults, russet colored,
powdery like flour,
large cracks in horsehair plaster
and places where plaster let go,
disintegrated, crumbled to dust,
wooden laths and two-by-fours
marked by faint carpenter pencil.

Because the past is unremarked
and unremarkable . . .
Because the high drafty passageway
leads from the tumult of life to the tumult
of slumber and dreams,
from the lopsided kitchen
to the cold painted bedrooms . . .
Because she stops as if sudden thought
or memory held her, hanging like the bare bulb
on a storm shattered branch . . .

The north wind rattles the frost-painted panes
almost enough to crack or break.       
The frayed blanket
nailed to the stairwell bottom
flutters and billows, and the bedroom
door rocks on its hinges.

Because she knows aged men                                    
breathed their last lonely breath
in rooms above her . . .
Because children tossed in fever . . .
Because worn calico and gingham women left by the front door
disgraced and divorced and their living
children would never see the father
again, only receive enough money                             
annually for one pair of shoes . . .

She looks to the wolf-black sky,
seeing ice below her
and fire ahead and nothing to stop
the bone-cracking, tear-freezing gale
that shakes the window glass, spits
down the chimney, gallops like horses
through all the rooms, chilling her children,
girls intent with crayons,
surrounding their pointy houses,
their sun and grass and flowers,
nipping their stick-figure family
drawn all in a row, smiling hand-in-hand.

Because she cannot separate millet
from rice, cannot untangle
silk thread from sheep's wool, cannot
remember the name of the dwarf . . .
Because at dusk the day-thawed snow
begins to freeze again, slick-glazed paths
to the outhouse and well . . .

The fairytale always ends
with this row of footprints frozen in ice. 


Kansas Black Top

we drive home
at midnight

fireflies glow
on the windshield

open windows
spool perfume

the roadside farm’s
harvested hay

again and again
solitary toads

cross the way
of our headlights

when we walk
to the mailbox

at noon
heat waffles

we come upon them
still toads

pressed like parchment
to the blacktop

we squat
in the sunlight

reading missives from
distant hands