Here there is no quiet. The secret motions
of next door neighbors are betrayed
by dime-thin shared walls, which
in turn betray my motions to them.
We are opened books upon tenement
shelves, doing laundry, singing, stumbling
home drunk in the night through screeching
third-floor doors and down spooky creaking
corridors, running the dishwasher, running
the shower, flushing the toilet, making love
without regard (as it should be made).
Here there is no quiet in the parking lot
smoking by the broken hopeless Buick
as through opened lighted windows unseen
toddlers cry at bedtime hours for withheld
joys, and couples feud to the sound
of their television feuding too.
Rows and rows of apartment buildings
and never an empty parking spot;
from the sky
it must look like massive sutures
in a bruised and useless earth.
But we so close choose to stiff-arm
one another in hallways passing.
We neighbors reside apart, shrouded
in the tremulous base of pirated music
while in the dark the undercarriages
of homeward cars scrape against
shoddy speed bumps.
You can't see the stars from
these lighted grounds. The grass
is sealed off and segregated, and
the trees all pay rent.
Here there is no quiet,
but that becomes
its own sort of quiet:
the movement of water in the walls,
the yawning of the fridge, the hearing
walking of unmet neighbors, the jostling
and locking of life's latches.
We don't know each other.
Never do we stop to chat, to comment
benignly on the brightness of the moon
or the headline scrawled in the folded
plastic-wrapped news on the stoop.
We hear each other through our
dime-thin shared walls a laughing
shouting white noise ignored like the
skittering settling of hot water
in arterial pipes. We pay no mind.
Here in the din of struggling
stacked America I found the heart
of it – a community of strangers,
shoulder to shoulder, back to back,
with only our belches
Dutch Godshalk is an award-winning news and features editor for Digital First Media Philly. His words have appeared in The Guardian, Men’s Health, Time Out London, Free Enterprise, Philadelphia Stories, and Apiary Magazine. He lives in Kensington. Follow him on Twitter: @DutchGodshalk.