Sitting on the Stairs with My Father, 1969
By Paige Gilchrist
October 15, 2023
October 15, 2023
It was probably just the foundation dig
for a new housing complex. Clawed-out
earth leaving steep slopes. A shallow, muddy
pool at its basin. I had seen it that morning on a walk
with other children and our mothers. So different
from the neat parks and clean playrooms
of our curated days. To my four-year-old eyes it was raw,
wild. A place where things escaped and hid. I wanted
to see it for myself, not in the bright sun
but when the light turned jagged—this fresh tear
in the earth, descending into what I imagined
was a secret riverbed. I wanted to be there alone.
Feel myself on the edge of the excavation.
See if my foot, in its little red tennis shoe, would slip
on the loose gravel of the slope. Someone caught me
making my way to the site. One of the cocktail-party
adults who had fanned out to find the hosts’ missing
little girl. Which is how I ended up at the top of the white,
carpeted stairs of our townhouse, ice cubes clinking
in glasses below, with my father. He must have had his own
version once. Maybe a set of rusted tracks he’d been warned
not to wander along, sun drying the grassweed and heating
the steel rails that pulled him—mirage in the hot air ahead—
farther than he should have gone. Past dinner. Maybe all the way
to dark. That must be why, with people from the office
and perfume and scotch swirling around, he walked up,
in black trousers and cream turtleneck, and sat down.
We had already had a stern talk about safety and rules.
I had finished crying. Now, he said, tell me about this mysterious
valley and the ancient river you found.
Paige Gilchrist lives in Asheville, NC. After years in nonfiction publishing, she now teaches the movement and meditation practices of yoga and studies and writes poetry. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Amethyst Review, Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, Juniper, Kakalak, ONE ART, and The Great Smokies Review.