Tom Sleigh

Stairway
October 13, 2013 Sleigh Tom

Stairway

 

In those days, so many stairways were said to lead to happiness, mainly of a sexual kind—and as I climbed those stairs, I could hear my name being called from the top, as I so often did back then—and the sight of me bolting up the stairs with my eager, cartoon tongue hanging out wasn’t as sad or silly as it might seem. Naturally, there were the avatars of sex, the ones who claimed to hate it, the others who thought it led to universal harmony—they were out in front of the rest of us, and they believed it, and so did I: but as a friend recently said to me, Always having to lead the way, be in front of the troops, all those speeches and sermons and truths you’d have to tell: such a burden. It went on like this, stairway branching into stairway, endless others going up or down to meetings just as I was. And after many years, there we were: to find you, to hold you, led like steps up and down…the sadness and silliness, though just as sad and silly, was somehow more in earnest. Even my doggy dog instincts, strong as always, understood some reckoning was at hand. The two of us had decided, mutually and irrevocably, to start climbing a stair that we knew was partly ruined, unlit except by the capriciousness of moonlight. But we had a method—and until the day when one or both of us stumbled off into the nothingness below, we committed ourselves to it—when one said, Left, we turned left. Which meant, because I have a terrible sense of direction, that I went whichever way you went.

Tom Sleigh’s many books include Station Zed, Army Cats (John Updike Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters), and Space Walk (Kingsley Tufts Award). He teaches at Hunter College and works as a journalist in the Middle East and Africa. A book of essays, The Land Between Two Rivers: Writing In an Age of Refugees, and of poems, House of Fact, House of Ruin, were published by Graywolf in 2018. Sleigh has published in Plume, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, VQR, APR, Poetry, Threepenny, and elsewhere, as well being widely anthologized in publications such as The Plume Anthology, The Best of the Best American Poetry, the Best American Poetry, and the Best American Travel Writing.