Recitative

Every night, we couldn’t sleep.
Our upstairs neighbors had to keep
Dropping something down the hall—
A barbell or a bowling ball,

And from the window by the bed,
Echoing inside my head,
Alley cats expended breath
In arias of love and death.

Dawn again, across the street,
Jackhammers began to beat
Like hangovers, and you would frown—
That well-built house, why tear it down?

Noon, the radiator grill
Groaned, gave off a lesser chill
So that we could take off our coats.
The pipes coughed to clear their throats.

Our nerves were frayed like ravelled sleeves,
We cherished each our minor griefs
To keep them warm until the night,
When it was time again to fight;

But we were young, did not need much
To make us laugh instead, and touch,
And could not hear ourselves above
The arias of death and love.

A.E. Stallings, “Recitative,” from Poetry (April 2005). Copyright © 2005 by A.E. Stallings.
Source: Poetry (Poetry Foundation, 2005)
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