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.