inevitable as poltergeists
in these old buildings
that go on existing despite gravity and entropy
and spontaneous combustion.
generations long committed to the underside,
defiant to scouring scrubbing ammonia bleach
lethal fumes that launch
us breathless into the street.
they’ve hung on through riots and layoffs,
the near-death rattle of the Big Three
and Zug Island’s eternal haze.
they are generations long committed
to the underside of the inner-city
all barely wisps of appetite now
in these five rooms that echo all night long
the songs of traffic, wild dogs and sirens.
the exterminator’s been and gone
two hundred bucks richer and we’ve been granted
this reprieve — no more nighttime
tap-dance bed to sink,
no renegades lurking in rust-thickened drains.
every light-switch can stand to attention —
no more midnight promenades caught
mid-step across kitchen floor, the hush of a thousand
legs whip-lashing against the sudden bright
and you and I relax
for the moment, sleep with arms thrown wide,
the city locked outside,
dog and cat snoring in separate corners
but wait a minute
or two, and ranks of ghosts, current-small, smudge-slippery,
rise sideways from the floorboards,
wash over every surface, settle in
to wait it out
in our shabby, hungry dreams.
Laura Bernstein-Machlay is an instructor of literature and creative writing at The College for Creative Studies in Detroit, MI, where she also lives. Her essays and poetry have been published in numerous journals including The Michigan Quarterly Review, The Alaska Quarterly Review, The Georgia Review, and others.