Top of the Stairs Looking Down
by Alexa Gutter
You were ten, bundled for Finnish winter,
standing at the brink of cement steps, when
Mirja, neighbor-girl, school-friend, stretched
her woolen hands in front of her and shoved.
How many stairs? In your story, the drop
seemed endless, the concrete icy and unforgiving.
I could see it clearly—little girl you crumpled in
a heap of boots and knitted clothes, your white
mitten soaked with blood as you touched the place
where your cheek had broken open. And Mirja!
Mirja at the top of the stairs, her rosy face glowing
with pleasure, unaffected by the red splashed snow.
I learned all this when I asked about
the pale scar just above your cheekbone,
near the outer corner of your left eye,
a place where tears collect and spill over.
At five, the injustice of it rattled me, filled me with
outrage each time I looked at the spidery mark.
In Helsinki that summer, we sat with Mirja and her
daughters in an outdoor cafe´. I stared at you in awe,
watched your smiling as though the whole betrayal
had never occurred. Later, you laughed
when I demanded an explanation, assured me
that people move on from these things, forget them.
I would never have guessed that villains grow up,
have daughters, eat cups of vanilla ice cream.
How strange to discover you were once a small girl,
and to find out some years later that you would
not live forever, that I might touch your swollen
face and you wouldn't feel it, wouldn't open your eyes.
Alexa Gutter is a former high school English teacher, and was the Bucks County Poet Laureate in 2013. Most recently, her poem "April" was published in the River Heron Review. She currently lives in West Chester, Pennsylvania with her husband and young son. A 2019 Pushcart Prize nominee, Gutter's poem can be found in Issue 18 of Glassworks.