RWB Workshop Poem of the Week – Mar. 30

Slight Problem

Arthur Russell

The number of stairs between the first floor and the landing has changed. It was ten, now it’s nine.

You wonder who there is to complain to. You actually look over your shoulder. That’s normal. When a stair goes missing between the first floor and the landing, you wonder who is in charge.

No one is in charge. Be happy that you can still get to the second floor, you don’t step off into a void.

If you’re lucky enough to meet a jeune fille, convince her to go home with you, and come upstairs, she won’t notice. The stairs appear the same as always. Creak, railing, paint drips: same. She will look up at you with a smile as you turn to look back at her midflight. Your soft face and petitioning eyes will reassure her. Everything is fine. The nagging thought that a stair is missing will distract you when you get excited during sex.

In the morning, you will count the stairs as you go down to make breakfast. Nine stairs. You will hear the shower come on and take a mental inventory of the towel situation, the toilet situation. Both are fine. She’ll move around the bedroom. You’ll like hearing how your house plays her melodies, like someone new playing the piano at The Village Vanguard.

When she comes down, you will count again. Your last thought before she enters the kitchen with that luminous face and wet hair still not brushed will be: still nine.

After she leaves, you’ll get the shoeboxes. That means looking at all of the photos of your wife and daughter. You’ve practiced passing over that hard place. There’s a photo with your daughter and three girlfriends sitting on the stairs at her eighth birthday; they’re wearing pink hair bands with springy foam ball antennas. As you expected, there will be ten steps, not nine.

You will go into the living room and count again. Nine. You count the stairs in the photo. Ten. You climb the stairs holding the photo like a GPS, trying to figure out which step is missing, but none is. There are just fewer than before.

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