History & Theory of Basements
That dirt floor.
When the storm
surrounds & the lights
go out, that cascade
of descending pressures.
Corner: Where the cat died.
Coal bin, mucky wall, half window.
Dirty string for light.
It’s not the sort of home
for morning tea.
When you were small
the furnace was a mystery,
a clanking cephalopod,
a thing with rusting breath.
like any other.
If you don’t watch out
you’ll fall down those stairs on your head.
You live alone now
and put your faith
in wooden banisters,
just a dowel rod really.
Just that cracked circumference
between you and—
Every time your floor
creaks beneath your feet
you hear the word stumble,
the word refuge.
When you descend to change
the burned-out light,
cobwebs graze your face.
Plumbing: The cold sweat.
Window: What the dark earth fills.
The corner, the floor
slope, the shade.
I am relearning, this late in life, to take
my coffee black: the undiluted night
and the way I can open my back window
to look right out into it: the screen
barest separation. I can’t hear the owl
but know it lives in one of these trees
one of those apparitions I’ll never look
directly at, like the admonishment
against staring at the solar eclipse
and the pinhole cardboard we constructed,
all us kids lined up on the sidewalk
in highest afternoon. I am thinking
of this, the way the sky pewtered
and birds confused themselves in trees
because of the dangerous sense I have now
that time is disordering itself, that days
repeat or skip and then reverse. I drink
coffee in the middle of the night, fall
asleep on a sunny afternoon. Nothing tethers
me. It is this house, the walls that rattled
me awake last spring when the temblor hit
and the way the wind comes in. The four
a.m. arousal of birds, pre-dawn deliveries that hurry
across town. Once I saw a fox
crossing Atwater, darting towards the campus
errant like flame. Once I woke staring
at the boards of my living room floor
and the light that spilled across them,
dreamlagged, uncertain. I’d call you
if I had your number, and anything
to say. I’d mention your name to friends
as if it changed things. We used to talk
about walls and the spells that echoed
off them. We’d laugh about ending
up alone: now look at me waking
into stillness, waiting for the quake.
Bits of the world come loose and fly
through the air like snowflakes. On
the radio the singer croons trust me
but there’s nothing here I trust, not
the ground beneath my feet, not the changing
pewter-starling sky. Does everyone walk
around cracked open, baffled like this? I’m
happy more days than not, but when the air
does this buck and shimmy I keep driving
just to stay out in the world, afraid
that facing my own four walls
would unfasten the last of what tethers me
and I’d break apart down to that place
where I’ve always been split, always lived
in pieces. The singer’s smiling, I know that
much. For now I turn it up, I settle in my body.
how we spend our lives trying
to break free of our own bodies
the shimmer of skin
on skin and the sun
that warmed us at the beach
that day, we struck
ourselves together like
stone and spark, we’d do
anything to escape ourselves,
the way we laughed like ice
breaking from trees and falling
and how you died inside
your body, your hand
in mine a closing
gate behind you, smaller
and smaller in that freezing
bed, no pillow high
enough to lift your face to heaven
Snowflakes aimless in the air like
tiny angels, dead and drifting
in this window, in this field of vision
where all this Midwestern weather
confuses me, snags on the rough spots
of my heart. Birds dart and tug
at the edges of the light, working
something open. I live alone
now and go there willing, close
the door behind me. I’m relearning,
this late in life, to trust what breaks
me, to waken in a shaking
world without alarm. It isn’t dawn
yet but the starlings hear it coming,
suddenly the trees are filled with them
and I’m waking in my waking body,
all the names of shameless
angels on my lips.
Anne Haines’s chapbook, Breach, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2008. Since her previous appearance in diode (Spring 2009), individual poems have appeared in Field, Bloom, New Madrid, Rattle, the anthology And Know This Place: Poetry of Indiana, and elsewhere. Currently Anne lives in Bloomington, Indiana, where she works as the Website Editor in the Indiana University Libraries.