Atlas on the Stairs

When we plucked the table from the curbside trash,
one you eyed and imagined
in the corner of a sun-lit room, you asked,
Will you carry this? I can’t
deny that soon my neck burned and thin arms shook,
that I counted the steps of labor and longed
for the level of your landing.

Wedged in the doorframe,
the wide, round top too perfect
for finessing angles. We paused,
weighed leaving it for the night
in the hall, as if we’d dream
an elegant plan to turn it through,
a pajama callisthenic
between breakfast and the Sunday paper.
The thought of its wholeness left outside
troubled me, proof of failed hospitality
and checked intention – better to live
in pieces, with the tools in our hands.

I passed the screws to you, the single legs,
the table’s weight transferring between us.
You looked beyond my shoulder
as I rolled the tabletop through the door,
searching for an ex-husband who might hide
in the way I stand, turn a phrase, or pour coffee.
The past is everyone’s gorgon: the head of snakes
turning us to stone, the hiss that lines our lives
with statues. I looked back as well,

hoping I hadn’t brought him there,
that we wouldn’t petrify and hold
the world of another above our heads.
The ruined table spread across
the warm, hardwood floor. Let’s not wait.
Let’s piece it together, starting now.


Chuck Rybak’s first chapbook, “Nickel and Diming My Way Through” won the Quentin R. Howard prize. His second chapbook, “Liketown,” was published by Pudding House Publications. Rybak’s first full-length collection, “Tongue and Groove,” was released by Main Street Rag.