Habitation by Ruth Danon

If I inhabit the whole house I will suffer no more sorrow than if I inhabit only a single room. I walk from one to the next through doors and passageways, through what I know and what becomes, in the moment of passage, liminal and urgent.
What will I carry with me
as I move from room to room?
What will I pick up? What
will I set down
on the quiet ledge of the mantel?
And that long breath, that hesitation, was a way of betraying something I hadn’t known. For some reason I thought of oysters, closed up in their shells and the hard work of prying them open. I didn’t know why I thought of them, except they seemed vulnerable, deep in the water they yielded when split in two.
I journey, then, from one room to another,
Call it night habitation, lamps dimmed,
one by one, and the slow turn of the hours.
Something about habitation requires work and frequent acts of attention. In the big body of the refrigerator I place a white bowl filled with some leftover tagine; the rest I place in a plastic container to freeze. It can be said that today I have inhabited different rooms of the refrigerator. Today I learned that in another room, far from here, a poet suggested that rooms open us to glimpses of the soul. Today, so many glimpses, brief, fleeting, and so cold.
Light through my window, light behind my eyes, light playing against shadows on the floor, light illuminating the clock with hands that don’t move, my hand brushing the floor, the cracks in the floor opening to time, my hand in a little fist, moving away from the floor, holding on a bit longer before the light fades.
Maggie, the cat, big of eye and tail, is looking for an opening. What she wants is to pry open the lid of the blanket chest I inherited from my mother. What she wants is what she wants. The books are in her way. She doesn’t care. She wants an opening. Her paws push and pry. She’s all frustration. She won’t give up, until she does.
Nothing more than a first gesture, a sheet I folded over the blanket to create
a perception of calm. The day held its heat and the show of animals went
on. A man with a white bird on his shoulder, another with a black cat on
his head. Pigeons flock and sparrows hide in spaces between. Later, inside,
the air conditioner hums. The sheets open up.
Sometimes, after I’ve washed the dishes left after a simple late dinner, after the
cat has been fed in the hallway, after I sip a cup of tea on the red sofa, after the
bath and the quiet time of writing, after turning down the cool sheets on the
newly made bed, I feel that every room I inhabit has moved inside me. I curl into
sleep and the rooms settle inside me; then, after all that, the rooms murmur desire that I inhabit them again.
The dark is crowding me out. Feet,
can I follow that sliver of light
into the next room.
Message from a room
formerly filled
with light:

Nothing prepared me
for inquisition
or pilgrimage. Not
cold stones, not bare feet.
Standing outside the door, the door
locked, I imagine the inside
and the fire burning. I wait,
I wait for a long time. Then I
put on my pretty leather gloves
and my feathered hat and fly away.
Ruth Danon is the author of the poetry collections, Word Has It, (Nirala Series, 2018), Limitless Tiny Boat (BlazeVOX, 2015), Triangulation from a Known Point (North Star Line, 1990), a chapbook, Living with the Fireman (Ziesing Brothers, 1981), and a book of literary criticism, Work in the English Novel (Croom-Helm, 1985). Her poetry has recently appeared in the anthologies, Eternal Snow (Nirala, 2017) and Resist Much, Obey Little (Spuyten Duyvil, 2017) and was selected by Robert Creeley for Best American Poetry, 2002. Her poetry and prose have appeared in The Florida Review, Tupelo Quarterly, Post Road, Versal, Mead, BOMB, the Paris Review, Fence, the Boston Review, 3rd Bed, Crayon, and many other publications in the U.S. and abroad. She teaches at the John Jay College of CUNY and has a private teaching practice in New York City and Beacon, New York.