the poet upstairs

The Door

Her door is always open. Her window is open, too. So the room, tucked in a corner of the third floor, is never stuffy.
I stand in the darkened hall, peering through the space created by the open door.
It is a mistake. It should have been placed so it opened into the room, instead of opening into the corner.
I wouldn’t have made that mistake, if I’d built this house.
If I’d built this house, I couldn’t watch her without her knowing.
The mirror across the room shows her back hunched over her desk. She’s writing again.



She moves minutely while starting a new line of secrets and a single brown curl shifts slightly.
The green ribbon holding her hair off of her neck dances when a breeze catches the frayed edge.
She doesn’t know I see her writing. It is my only secret.
I lift my nose to the space bravely. I smell lilac when her hair moves.
There is a floor board that creaks in the hall. My left foot must anchor there to see her this way. I barely breathe.
I fear if she finds me watching, she will never speak to me again.


I’m not allowed in her room. Mother says gentlemen don’t enter the realm of ladies unless they are married.
She invited me in, anyway; last week, when I brought her mail.


She’s wearing the white eyelet dress today. That means it’s Saturday. She’s going to see him.
She told me last week that he’s going to marry her. I told her that I would marry her, and she smiled. Her eyes, warm pools of secrets.
“I’m not good enough for you.”


Last week, I watched him kiss her neck.
I sneaked up the stairs with my shoes off.
His shirts are clean and white. His collar stiff. His shoes shiny.
Today, I shine my shoes and ask Mother to starch my collar. Mother just smiles.
I sit across from her in the sitting room while she waits for him. She admires my collar.
She watches me knowingly. She knows I did it for her. She blushes when my smile confirms her suspicion.
“You should be out courting,” she chides.
“Mother won’t let me. She needs me here.”
“I’m sorry.”
“I’m not.”


She blushes again.
Even though she’s waiting for another man, I know she’s only thinking of me.
She never blushes for him.
I hear his knock. I go to get the door.
He dismisses me with neither a “thank you” nor a “good evening.”
I remind her (him) that there is a curfew. She thanks me.
When he places his hand at the small of her back, she moves forward immediately.
When I place my hand at the small of her back the next day, she leans into my hand.


Sunday is my favorite day. We go to church, and I sit next to her.
I don’t believe in god.
But here, I can smell her hair, watch her move, touch her hand and listen to her sing.
She doodles loops and flowers in the margins of her bible.
I am never closer to her than in church. I can never feel her warmth anywhere but here. It is my sanctuary.
She told me yesterday that she doesn’t believe in god, either.
During prayer, I brush her hand. She wraps her pinky around mine. A tear slips from her eyes.

A Letter

I wrote her a letter. I offered to marry her and take care of her. I knew that I could lose her, but I told her she wouldn’t have to stop writing if she married me.
She knows all my secrets now.


I sleep under the window in front of the door
I never close my door
He stands in the doorway
He watches me as I sleep
He comes into my room
I am not asleep, but lay still as he kisses me
I know he watches me write
The creaking floorboard is his wordless “I love you”
Mine is the door
I never close my door


Mother asks me to take a pie to the neighbor’s. They have a daughter. She’s nice enough.
Mother always sends me with pies and flowers when the neighbor’s daughter is at home. When the daughter is away, Mother goes herself.


She watches me return from the neighbor’s. Her eyes are tight with disappointment.
I hand her the four-leaf clover I found in the neighbor’s yard.


She’s sitting on the porch to avoid the afternoon sun streaming through her bedroom window. Her face glows with perspiration.
I hand her a glass of iced tea and a Chinese paper fan.
“I’m getting married in a month,” she says.
“You’re happy for me?”
“No. You know I’m not.”
“I’m not happy for me, either.”
“Marry me.”
“Well, don’t marry him, then.”
She turns to look at me, regret in her eyes, resignation in the set of her mouth.


The neighbor’s daughter is away visiting an aunt, so Mother is visiting them instead of sending me.
She and I are finally alone.
She is wearing her blue dress, my favorite, the one she wears on Sundays. Her hair is down, waves of chestnut that end in soft curls that graze her breasts.
I brush her hair back, the way he did before he kissed her. She doesn’t stop me.
I close my eyes and bring my nose to that place behind her ear where the lilac scent is strongest.

A Pair

The sound of splitting wood awakens me
I rise gladly to watch my love in secret
He is not the other
He is sympathetic, sincere, selfless
He sees me and loves me
I see him, too,
He sweats honestly
And moves with grace
The sound of chopping wood angers him
I go to him as a comfort while he mourns the loss
The hazel trees are gone
Wisdom and purity lost with them, too, it seems
We share the knowledge of what cannot be
He returns with two seeds
The trees, like us
Must be paired to survive


Mother knows I love her and forbids me to go to the third floor.
I steal up to her room at night and watch her sleep.
When Mother goes visiting, I watch her write. I don’t hide anymore.
If she noticed I stopped bringing her mail to her room, she doesn’t say anything.
I pour her coffee and sit across from her.
“I’m leaving.”
She doesn’t reply.
“I’m going to work in Seattle.”
She studies her coffee.
“Please don’t marry him.”

Open Ticket

I set my bird free today.
I left her a letter and my address in Seattle.
I included an open ticket.
I didn’t say goodbye to Mother because she doesn’t see me anymore.
I board the train, ticket in hand.
I have a cigar box with all the things I gave her.
She doesn’t know I saw her throw it away.
She doesn’t understand why I have to leave.
The ring is the last thing I gave her. It’s smaller than the one he gave her. There is no diamond, only a paste stone, the color of her Sunday dress.


I wear a diamond, but not for love
I wear it to live
I love one
But am promised to another
My love gave me his ring to make me his
Small and blue it rests
In a box
I cannot wear it on my hand
My love could not stay and I could not go
He leaves tomorrow
I bear it
Just to cry alone in my room
A box of treasures is all that is left
Small gifts like refuse
I toss them while mourning the loss of my love


Another Letter

Dearest Annie,
I’ve set you free, just as you wanted.
I hope you know what that means.
I’ll wait for you here.
Your ring and all my small gifts will be waiting for you, as well.
It was just a mistake, my love. You thought I would leave you here alone.
I would never leave you like that.
Don’t marry him.
You don’t have to marry me, either. Just come to me.
Yours Jack.


It has rained for ten days.
She hasn’t written.
I watch for her to walk down the street from my window.
I try to call Mother, but she doesn’t accept the call.
I call the neighbor’s daughter. She didn’t go to the wedding, but she thought she heard they were married.


I am shaving. But my attention is on the street reflected in the mirror. I can see out the window from where I stand.
I cut myself when I see her on the street.
Blood running down my neck and onto my undershirt, I race to the window, hoping to catch her before she leaves.
A man approaches and she takes his arm.
It isn’t her.


I go to the bookstore every Friday.
I remember on Fridays she used to sit on the porch and read when the weather was nice.
She read lying on her bed when it rained.
Rainy were my favorite Fridays.
I would wait until she was reading to bring her mail.
She would invite me into her room where I sat at the foot of the bed, turning my head to watch her reclining.
She would peer at me at she as she turned each page.
I would imagine her unclothed, a book the only thing between us.


I left her 53 Fridays ago.
I stopped watching for her 30 Fridays ago.
I am at the bookstore, looking at the new arrivals.
Her name catches my eye.

Freedom: 50 Poems
by Annie Laurence

I’m surprised. He didn’t seem like the kind of man who would allow her to work, let alone write.
I buy a copy and take it home.
I sit in a chair facing the window so I can watch the street.


My hands are shaking. I had wanted to read her writing from the moment I started watching her from the bedroom door.
And here it is. Everything she wrote. Her soul laid bare to me.
I drop the book when I read the inscription.

First Poem

For Jack, who set me free.

I pick up the book, my shaking hands barely able to grasp it securely enough to turn the page.

He stops chopping wood as I pass
He watches me
He doesn’t nod hello, as others do,
But keeps his gaze steady on my face

He never gives me the chipped cup at breakfast
He takes it
He doesn’t avoid the chipped edge
But enjoys the reminder of his care against his lips

He brings another lamp into the room as I read
He watches me
He doesn’t sit next to me, trying to hold my hand
But sits across from me, trying to grasp my heart

I invite him in when he brings my mail
I read it
I don’t tell him I know he watches me
But let him keep his secrets

Last Poem

The first poem must have been written within the first week of her arrival.
I read all of them, greedily devouring every word she never said to me.
Did she marry him? I search for clues.
The last poem must have been written after I left:

is a choice when love demands
that you leave
It’s a ticket and a promise
is the air between us that warms
at our closeness
It remains against your preference for my embrace
is when I come to you because
I can
It is the lightness of step when obligations are ripped away

An Open Door

She came to me when she could, when she was free.
I built her a house.
Here, all the doors open into the rooms. There are no mistakes.
Here, I sit next to her and hold the hand with my ring while she writes.
I never hide when I watch her.
She says I never had to.
She still reads on Fridays, her book the only thing between us.
We never say “I love you,” but I always take the chipped cup at breakfast, and her door is always open.

Outtake-Chapter 13

Eyes search eyes
Finding darkness, they sweep
Over bodies, under clothes
Silk and Cotton

The air stills
Glistening skin brushes
Callouses on fingers
Jagged Edges

He sweeps hair
Sending shivers, waking minds
From their wistful slumber
Kiss and Caress

Secrets revealed
Making lives whole again
I understand, I see
Heart and Body

Urgency hardens
Defining intentions, we meet
On soft surfaces and move
Cunning Flesh

Breath quickens
Taking in smells and tastes
Salty, lilac, musky, tart
Argent, Velvet

Darkness waits
Shimmering and moonless
Nighttime is far away
But I see stars



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