The Known Stranger

The man who lives in apartment 237

B, from when they re-divided the units,

has a beard that's gray from dust and glasses

that are always crooked. The only music he listens

to, I can hear through the walls late at night,

is light jazz and 50s rock and roll. His cat is

Gray too, and when it's warm she eats

the wilted flowers off the rusting fire escape.

The woman living across the street,

down a floor and over two the left,

is short and plump and blonde

with baby's curls. Sometimes

I can hear her yelling at a husband

whom I never see. Every day in powder pink

curlers, she watches the sun rise alone,

a stub of a cigarette pinched in her pursed lips.

There's a happy couple, newly married,

on the top floor down the lane -

a brick townhouse that was condemned

years ago for a week. Foundation troubles.

Christmas lights hang on their roof

year round, and when the breeze is best

the smell of beef and smoke.

permeates the neighborhood like a rumor.

I watch these people from my window,

from behind my door, once from in the street.

I give them names, Walter and Martha and

The Birds and there's others too.

I tell myself their lives until I know them

better than they are. I want to ask -

I only think I will - it would ruin the illusion

of the strangers that I know too well.