Written at the Top of a Stairwell, February 1970

(these three poems were written on February 6, 1970 while I was waiting with a dozen other people at the top of a stairwell in Philadelphia in a building which housed a major Selective Service System office)

3:40 pm
Outside a bird flies singly by,
One against a background of
ruffled, solid, sun-brightened clouds.
The traffic 12 floors down
stops and starts,
slows down, accelerates,
screeches, honks, spreads pollution.

Philadelphians are walking
from place to place,
many of them
between the ages of
18 and 26.

Inside we sit and sprawl upon
a dirty, unused (!) before now
(put to good use)
concrete platform, and
the top steps
leading to it.

Words are few,
thoughts are many,
time is slow,
and the paint
on the walls
is crumbling away.

The window to our left is open,
(below us doors open and close,
and we hear a voice)
the one to the right closed,
not capable of moving.

The door to the roof
is behind the poet, barely open–
we will wait for dark
before walking upon it.
The sun is coming down slowly,
casting window-frame shadows
upon the wall a half flight down.
We wait for the time.

8:15 pm
Two lights flash,
all is well,
within and without.

Within we feel a desire to act in love,
Without which we are not as full.

Two lights flash
and there is no emergency.

The only emergency
is the one
we are responding to,
responding to hopefully
and with faith”
that the Bible upon which
this is being written
is right when it says,
“The meek shall inherit the earth.”
“Lo, I am with you always. . .”
If He is anywhere in this land,
we hope that He is here,
in this stairwell,
out on the roof,
down on the third floor,
Where we are carrying out
His will.
9:30 pm
All of the words,
the long hours of talk,
the soul-searching and pain,
the slow awakening to the need–
all are over.

All that remains
is for
six hours to pass.