Downstairs

 

In this house, all the stairs go down.

 

Ladder rungs drop from the attic.
Whoever descends grows frantic
spitting dust, wiping cobwebs from his face.
His feet in their loose-laced
shoes are unsure.
He toes the treads all hesitation,
alights surprised

 

onto a floorful of bedrooms. Bedrooms,
Lined up along the hall. Sheets and coverlets
tidily tucked, pillows plumped,
hide the stink of ghosts giving up.
Didn’t an old covenant once promise him sleep?
All his dreams of sun-splotched fields,
friends long dead camped by the river,
strange painted birds and insects trilling,
were only rationales for static.

 

Puffy carpet pads the spiral
down to where the people are.
A dizzy drop it would be if not.
Eggshell white. Who descends
has changed his shoes. Patent leather
sheens between the tufts.
Below, men smell of lavender,
women of tobacco. Children
lean against their mama’s legs. Beyond,
the kitchen bloats with roasting meat,
a seminar of woodpeckers, the sounds.

 

Steps leading to the basement are cement,
gray. The walls supporting them are gray, also,
a darker shade. The space is narrow.
Once, an independent movie-maker paid the household well
to shoot this very staircase for his horror show.
Trunks and wooden crates, cardboard boxes fill the cellar.
Each clasps something different but it’s better not to ask.
Whoever has come down here wisely walks right past.

 

Fifty feet from the basement door
a gentle declension
of mossy bricks winds through cliffs
that overlook a furious surf.
Black lava rocks spike up
from white spasms of foam.
A foghorn moans.
Here a hundred sailors drowned.
The ashes of his friends
twirl around those old skeletons.
What is to reprieve him now
who built his stairways only down?

 

Jean Esteve