by Joyce Odam, Sacramento
Here is the map to nowhere. If you must go there,
follow carefully the marked way. When night comes
to your need to rest, the little towns you pass will
sleep behind their simple names. All windows will
be dark, as if night were the end to everything. There
is a place you can stay that has one vacancy—it always
has. And the next day’s travel will not hurry you. This
is timeless country. Sleep is made of night sky, black
and bottomless. You can stay on if you want to.
(first pub. in Medusa’s Kitchen, 2013)
Haunted Hotel del Salto Columbia
Many stairs climb this dark. Many levels
of climbing to reach the sunken door at
the high wall with the tanglesome ivy and
the long sheer fall. Glinting windows give
no welcome. This is from your dream—
the old dream where the precipitous stairs
beckon, though they are rickety now with
a thin, deceptive rim of light along the
railing. Let nothing sway you. You must
keep climbing. The dark is as dark as dark
can be. This is your now or never. There
is something familiar here—something
familiar, but without love. Only the far-off
crying, that formless something that you
must rescue out of yourself.
After “In A Cheap Hotel” by Elizabeth Bishop,
The New Yorker, 2006
It was cold. A winter love. A love I made up
because I was full of words. Full of words for
the loneliness, and for the love. Love that was
not mine, but only wanted.
Winter was always worst—cold and lonely
and full of grieving. I was nowhere I wanted
to be—another strange town with no memory
in it. How could I live there? A neon light
kept blinking its all-night comfort. I slept for
the dreams which released me.
Morning was gaunt. Not enough heat in this
hotel. Not enough sleep—Pity walking by
the door without knowing.
I would not welcome.
Where were you then that I could not find you?
Little sad heroes of life, with their fine
hands and leanings, come dragging scarves
to their brides of goodness, with dark holes
of light in their eyes to see by.
But they get lost on the stairs; get confused
by the shadows of the halls; they mix up the
numbers of rooms.
They come to the Hotel of Pity with old blue
rain of promises instead of years, coming to
their brides on romantic knees—to cajole
them—tell them how lovely—lisp promises.
They love in the winter, when the room is warm,
when soft light holds them from the walls. They
lie entwined, the room rumples and asleep, like
them. The radio plays absent music; a curtain
flutters—warns. They stir—open their eyes, but
sleep is too heavy and takes them back. The slow
door opens, the unlocked shadow forms over them.
After Edward Hopper’s Hotel Window, 1956
In the hotel of wrong decision she waits in her red hat
and dress, her legs crossed prettily in black high heels—
posed for her own imagination—staring out at the night
which is staring back through her reflection. I think she’s
my mother; patient as always, haughty in red, sitting
there in her camel coat with the fur collar draped over
one shoulder. She thinks it will rain.
I remember her clearly—notice the wet smell of the air—
the black couch—the pale yellow wall—the blue rug—
the white pillar outside the window. When did her hair
go white, I wonder. She doesn’t seem to notice I’m there.
I’m outside the power of my observation. Her mind is
planning ahead—her purse hugged guardedly on her lap—
all her important papers in it. I get the feeling she’s
leaving for good this time. I haven’t been born yet, and
she’s already old.
Someone is changing our history—someone who is late—
or not coming—someone she already regrets. Perhaps
the night is not there—or the dim effort of light that illu-
minates this tableau of vague transition. Perhaps it will
rain and she will return to her room. She’s in control of
my existence—this woman I want to weep for—seem to
know—fear for the uncertain direction of her future.
THE HOTEL MIRROR
Askance on the wall, the long mirror
faces me, but without my face, though
still holding the lamp, the tilted ceiling,
the edge of the bedpost, a bit of my
shoulder. I can see, but not be seen. If
I turn a little to the left, then I am there—
in the mirror—looking curious: a face
across the room, in glass dimension,
amused, playing peek-a-boo with myself.
I shift and cut my face in half at the gold
frame. The lamp stares, casting its own
shadow up and down. I wave to myself—
a foolish woman looking for her humor.
The lamp flaunts its brassy base and plays
its own amusement game of glint and
shimmer : tilting its shade a bit to its satis-
faction, the mirror takes the action for its own.
THE HOTEL OF CONTINUATIONS
The wall in the hall has a way in and a
way out. The wall stretches along itself
unhampered by the doors.
No one walks there. The hall
is too long. A shadow tried once,
but kept fading into the wall.
The carpet is quiet and vacuumed.
the baseboard has no scratches.
The rooms behind the door
have always been empty.
They are only for the stories.
It was always long ago.
It is always now.
I think I lived there once,
but only my mother remembers
and she won’t tell me.
That is me playing at the end of
the hallway with the toys
I still keep hidden for protection.
I think I remember.
the white pallet the moon
spreads across the leaves
is like a fairytale
turning dark at the edges
— Lloyd Van Brunt
You hear yourself weep softly in the night.
You hear night answer with its own release.
The room of misery opens out
into a sad endlessness.
You feel yourself enter the permission
of the dark.
You are unhealed.
You are unfound.
Nowhere is there light,
though light surrounds you—
elsewhere—in some soft memory,
like a sheet.
It hums with direction—melts against
the cold enclosing shadow, and goes out.
Why fight for sleep when the whole moon is
shining white and near through the window,
when words are waiting to become your poem,
the one you try to grasp out of such moments
as this—the clock anonymous with numbers
that mean nothing except how they trouble you
—move you forward into more of them.
How easily it is to give mind to such intrusion
of the spirit which strives to know itself.
A siren, and the moon shudders a little bit more
into the dawn; a siren, a little howl from
somewhere in the night—near or far,
it makes no difference, the trailing
echo swallows sound, turns it
into brimming silence;
a siren, more like the
pulling of distance,
both fading now.
A shadow blots
out the moon.
Everything here is memorized: the glowing wall behind
me with its calendar, the crack in the night that turns into
I am a shimmer of light come home from my darkness;
the bright air illuminates me; curtains billow in, and I am
wrapped in dusty lace.
A sleep thread catches on me—pulls—and I unravel.
Our many thanks to Joyce Odam for these wonderful atmospheric poems about cheap hotels and the ghosts that reside there, and her lovely, haunting artwork as well. Our new Seed of the Week is (partly stolen from Joyce’s poem) Wrong Decisions. Send your poems, photos and artwork about this (or any other) subject to firstname.lastname@example.org. No deadline on SOWs, though, and for a peek at our past ones, click on “Calliope’s Closet”, the link at the top of this column, for plenty to choose from.
Bay Area Editor Gail Entrekin writes that the new issue of Canary is now available at canarylitmag.org/.
Errata in yesterday’s post (since rectified): The Women’s Wisdom Anthology is Lift It Tenderly, not Lift It Gently, and the Soft Offs don’t have a hyphen in their name.
Photos in this column can be enlarged by clicking on them once,
then click on the X in the top right corner to come back