By Laura Bernstein-Machlay

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.