Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Unclimbed Stairs

—Photo by Joyce Odam

—Joyce Odam, Sacramento

My mother and I would try on hats at a
little Hat Shoppe in one of the towns we
lived in. (Long Beach, I think.) A narrow
little shop squeezed in between two others.
The hats cost only a dollar—maybe
two—grown-up hats with turned-down
brims, some with veils, like the mystery-
hats sophisticated ladies wore in movies.
We would finally buy one apiece and
saunter out onto the sidewalk, feeling new
to ourselves, changed by the wearing of a
hat—hers with a sassy brim—mine with a


—Joyce Odam

The staircase that is not up, and is not
down, and has no wall or railings.

The staircase that spirals
and diminishes as it goes higher.

All the stairways of ruined houses,
fallen in.

The descending, backless stairs
that belong to cellars without depth.

on the outside of bldgs.

Stairs before elevators,
stairs that are elevators.

The stairways that go sideways
onto non-returning sidewalks,

The countless sleepy-stairs
between lullabies and farewells.

All unclimbed stairs
yet to take you where you dare.


(based on "A Little Night Music",
1946, Dorothea Tanning)
—Joyce Odam

We are outside the doors in an orange hallway,
one doorway open to a slash of light. Yellow.
Stairs narrow down from a polished railing.

We are dreaming. Our gowns are shredded—
as by claws. One of us is sister to the other,
though that is impossible. (Mother’s thwarted

pregnancy?) Two shadows strain in different
directions: one stands upright to the wall,
the other pulls out from under the feet of the one

with floating hair. We are dreaming. Why am
I the one infected with this non-memory—
this secret of difference? Fear is the answer,

though nothing threatens. One of us
has to sacrifice the truth to the other’s
imagination, silence as heavy as sadness here.

Who will wake first? Light saturates
the scene, as if a blotter. We are dreaming.
We are still two, like the numbers on

the doors, but we do not comfort each other.
We are as if derived from one—one of us
the shadow of the other—the one with

eyes closed. We are convinced that we are
dreaming, though nothing proves this.
We are outside the doors in a dimming hallway.

The orange carpet lengthens, wall to wall.
All the doors are dark but one—the one
standing open to a bulging room of yellow.

—Photo by Joyce Odam

—Joyce Odam

For years the women have walked down
these gray stairs to the water where they
gossip and wash clothes and talk about the
boats, which never come. On glare-bright

days they lean out over the ripples and
watch their reflections burn in the watery
sunshine—a mockery of motion and
distortion. They laugh at themselves,

or feel a tearing away. The men stand
in idle groups. The children run up and
down the stairs or sit by themselves in
increments of distance. At night the stairs

empty, except for the few who stay to watch
the mystery of the water—how it listens
back—how it laps and ripples against the
base of the stairs. This is only a continuing

story made of life that waits for itself—day
by day and night by night, on the edge of
persistence. The boats never come. The
stairs go up and down. The children play.

The men stand around. The women walk
down to the lower steps to wash clothes
and look at themselves in the staring water.


—Joyce Odam

The angel of light came down the stairs
to my mother who was ill, and a child.
This is her memory:

The angel shimmered for a long, bright
moment, then wavered down
and disappeared—

just before touch—just before sleep
drifted in and took my mother under
a slow and loving deepness.

If the angel went with her—she can’t
remember—dreams are a part of reality
—illusion is more than it seems—

and my mother’s fever-angel returns
from time to time, to my memory.


—Joyce Odam

For all things willing
and all things sad
I lay this small gift
beside the empty place.
I bring in my basket of
Take one, I say to everyone
till it is empty.
Ever so softly
for it is night
and everyone is sleeping.
I go up and down the stairs with
my lullaby and candle.

(first pub. in Calif. State Poetry
Society Quarterly, 1975)


Thanks to Joyce Odam for today's contributions to the Kitchen, including her photos of the lowly mushrooms (or is it toadstools?). Finding poetry in the overlooked—a lesson for us this National Poetry Month!—so our Seed of the Week is Poetry of the Overlooked. It's all around you—on the bus, up in the sky, or, like Joyce found, nestled in the front lawn. Send your celebrations of the overlooked to kathykieth@hotmail.com

April is a high-octane month for poetry in our area; among the many opportunities is Saturday's Stockton Word Fest, the first-ever poetry festival in Stockton. (See the info on the blue board at the right of this column.) Monika Rose writes that, among other activities: You will be able to meet Sam Pierstoff from Modesto JC, editor of Quercus Lit quarterly, as well as meet other poets and editors. I will be there with Linda Field, host of Manzanita Voices and editor at MWP, representing Manzanita Writers Press publishing and opportunities such as Manzanita journals, and about submitting to and writing poetry for literary journal publication.

And I am sad to report that Davis Poet Patricia Hickerson's son, Jon, passed away this weekend due to Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS). Our condolences to Pat, and thanks for her poem about him:

MY CRICKET (RIP Jon 1951-2012)
—Patricia Hickerson, Davis

nerve and sinew
boy of my bones
coming out on the New York side
cold December day
dark density of a world city
few crickets chirping here
only you, my poet boy
held high before me
our blood smeared your hard head
sign of great passion to come
as you slipped silently
in and out my door
and back again

I drink in your eyes
your world
your sweet soul
your cricket cry of wisdom
echoes in my ears
sweet cricket
sweet soul
sweet cricket cry
beloved son


Today's LittleNip: 

—Joyce Odam

At the altar of my heart lie many vintages.
I choose wines to say this.

I am not without memory of
scents and flavors.

I am open to the dark coolness,
and the stairs, the little door between

the entrance and exit
to everything chosen, then un-chosen.



 —Photo by Joyce Odam