The Blue Stairs

By Barbara Guest 1920–2006 Barbara Guest
There is no fear
in taking the first step
or the second
or the third
                                 having a position
                                 between several Popes

In fact the top
can be reached
without disaster


The code
consists in noticing
the particular shade
of the staircase

                                 occasionally giving way
                                 to the emotions

It has been chosen

To graduate
the dimensions
ease them into sight

                                 republic of space

Radiant deepness
a thumb
passed over it

                                 as one who executes robbers

Waving the gnats
and the small giants


How to surprise
a community
by excellence

somehow it occurred

                                 living a public life

The original design
was completed
no one complained

In a few years
it was forgotten


It was framed
like any other work of art
not too ignobly

                                 kicking the ladder away

Now I shall tell you
why it is beautiful

Design: extraordinary
color:    cobalt blue

                                 secret platforms

Heels twist it
into shape

It has a fantastic area
made for a tread
that will ascend

Being humble
i.e. productive

Its purpose
is to take you upward

On an elevator
of human fingerprints
of the most delicate

Being practical
and knowing its denominator

To push
one foot ahead of the other

Being a composite
which sneers at marble

                                 all orthodox movements

It has discovered
in the creak of a footstep
the humility of sound

Spatially selective
using this counterfeit
of height

To substantiate
a method of progress

Reading stairs
as interpolation
in the problem of gradualness

                                 with heavy and pure logic

The master builder
acknowledges this

As do the artists
in their dormer rooms

                                 eternal banishment

Who are usually grateful
to anyone who prevents them
from taking a false step

And having reached the summit
would like to stay there
even if the stairs are withdrawn

Barbara Guest, "The Blue Stairs" from The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest. Copyright © 2008 by Barbara Guest.  Reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.

Source: The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest (Wesleyan University Press, 2009)

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Poet Barbara Guest 1920–2006

SCHOOL / PERIOD New York School

Subjects Arts & Sciences, Philosophy, Architecture & Design

 Barbara  Guest


Barbara Guest rose to prominence in the late 1950s as a member of an informal group of writers known as the New York school of poets whose membership included Frank O'Hara, John Ashbery, and James Schuyler. Their innovative approach to poetry was influenced by modern art, especially surrealism and abstract expressionism. Guest drew on her own background in art (she worked for Art News magazine in the 1950s) to create poetry . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Arts & Sciences, Philosophy, Architecture & Design

SCHOOL / PERIOD New York School

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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