I often think of that mansion in Shaughnessy.
How the stained glass windows
in the stairwell, on sunny days, draped
the wooden stairs with a bright jewelled
carpet of red and gold
and the massive oak fireplace
that, like a much-loved blustery old uncle,
greeted you in the formal entry hall.
I still have dreams of it—
In them, I discover secret passageways
I’ve never noticed before, hidden
behind the silent wood-paneled walls.
Sometimes, I find a narrow staircase leading
up to an undiscovered attic room
where the whispers of children playing
hide-and-seek, drift through the creaking
rafters, and settle into dusty corners.
When I lived there, it was divided
into suites; a grand old dame
indignantly interfered with
from the inside out.
All its previously well-appointed rooms
rented to a rabble of animated art students.
We filled the mansion’s halls with the
musical echoes of Tom Waits’ rasping voice,
and the soupy scent of those cheap
plastic-wrapped noodles from Buy-Low.
Our spilled beers stained the hardwood floors
on boisterous potluck nights. I don’t recall
anyone ever cleaning the little
bathroom which we all shared.
The mansion is still there on 16th Street,
or rather, the shell of it is—
the inside is hollowed out.
Our cheap students’ suites now
transformed into luxury condos.
The stained glass replaced by
Warm wood-paneled walls torn out
for austere drywall. The aroma
of gourmet take-out and chardonnay
now seeps into it’s sterile halls
and the current inhabitants only
know each other by their names
on the mailboxes.
The possibility of secret attics
is quite remote.
Before the accident,
the addiction had burned through him
like a wild fire through a dry field of grass.
Catching on the clothesline,
it had snaked along the string
and one by one,
set the sheets ablaze.
When the flames reached his house,
a small boy
sitting on the living room floor
watching Sunday morning cartoons
with a bowl of cheerios on his lap.
Thieving was crucial
to keep the embers burning.
While attempting to climb through the window
of a strangers home,
Red sparks flared behind his eyes
then extinguished into blackness.
The moment his head hit the pavement,
the man he used to be was swept away.
A broken shard of glass
Rendered smooth and opaque in the sand
by a sudden wave.
After the water receded,
he was washed clean.
There is no memory of the fire
that had once consumed him.