The Wall by Patricia Karamesines


My neighbor’s light steps
Through gaps between the boards at night,
And my neighbor’s light steps
Drift like leaves among his unguessed furniture.
At sunset, the sun leaks from his room.
We have never spoken through the wall,
Though we have, at other times, spoken,
And we have, at other times, thought
Of each other’s sleeping.

Unfamiliar voices,
Male and female,
Twining like butterflies in the space
Of the wall’s other room.
I guess love
And wait ’til their trembling,
And the wall’s trembling, pass.
Then embers of their conversation
Once more permit sleep.

I hear a woman crying.
I think, “There is a woman in my dreams, crying.”
Then I think, “No, I am crying.”
And then another voice says, €œNo,
That’s real sadness on the other side
Of the wall–not your dreaming. €
I follow the sounds, but when my eyes open,
They have nowhere to go in the blindfold blackness.
Yet to my ears, the nightingale, a bare-throated woman,
Warbles her sorrows through the wall’s divide.

Patricia Karamesines lives with her family in the Four Corners region of the southwestern U.S. She has won many awards for her poetry, essays, and fiction. She is the author of The Pictograph Murders, a mystery set in the area where she lives. An adjunct English professor for Utah State University-College of Eastern Utah, she teaches English composition but acts at the college mainly as an English tutor, working mostly with the school’s Native American students. She is founding editor of Wilderness Interface Zone and a passionate advocate for the environment of human expression.

Photo of an old door in Dakhla, Egypt via Wikimedia Commons.


3 thoughts on “The Wall by Patricia Karamesines”

  1. You know, I have had moments like this at archaeological sites. One time, after our site manager sank one of our vehicles trying to cross a flash flood, I stayed behind with a couple others to guard expensive camera equipment and other precious instruments that had to be left on the site. That night, the mosquitoes were awful. I finally laid my arm outside my sleeping bag and sacrificed it to them so they’d leave the rest of me alone. Because I slept poorly, I became aware at one point of drums beating. Yes. Drums beating. Ghost drums. Beating.

    The other time was in Chaco Canyon when we were in Pueblo Bonito. You’re allowed to go into some of the rooms there. One room seemed to have … I don’t know … something lingering.

    But the stanzas above are all much more literal in nature. They describe experiences I had in my sunken bedroom in the basement of a striking old Mormon polygamous home when I attended grad school at BYU. I was past the age limit where BYU had to stop forcing students into BYU approved housing, so I got to live for cheap in a windowless basement next door to an assorted bunch.

    The basement of the part of the house I lived in was divided from the basement in the other apartment by a flimsy wooden wall. My bed was on a concrete floor right next to the wall. Unlike most of my experiences with room partitions, standard models of which usually offer some separation from people on the other side, this wall leaked through all kinds of sounds, sights (like light), and other sensory information.

    I’d never lived in a spot where events on another side of a wall affected me so deeply. The third stanza may sound mystical, but it’s a literal description of what my sleeping mind’s said as it was drawn from sleep toward the sound of a woman weeping on the other side of the wall.


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