New Poem: “The Silver Stairs”

The Silver Stairs

Diana Senechal

When I staggered up the last of the silver stairs,
I barely registered their tarnishes.
I wanted to return a book to Frank before nightfall.
Four books in one. The Alexandria Quartet.
Then I saw you on the indoor stairs, surprised,
maybe angry to see me. I learned later
that Frank was throwing a party for you that night
and I had not been invited. You may have thought

that I showed up to spite you, but such acts
were even less on my mind than silver stairs
or their yellowing. I was thinking of the book itself,
of Justine and Clea and the way the story goes
through so many turnings. You don’t really know
who anyone is until the end, and then even less.
So don’t assume you knew why I had come.
My errand done, I left at once; isn’t that proof

enough for your accusing soul? But why
these hurlings anyway? I am no worse than those
silverish few you want to be seen around,
the ones whose names you listed and handed over
to Frank, who diligently made the calls, adding
in tarnished tones, “Don’t tell anyone about this.”
Secrets come loose at last, but most are vain.
Had I been invited, I probably would have dared

little more than a hello. I would have stood
with a beer in the corner, looking and thinking
on the room’s glow and shadow, the swift eyebrows,
the stories I didn’t know but could pick up,
the way we sing along with an unknown song,
our lips predicting the next shape of syllable,
our bodies figuring the beat to come.
In other words, it wouldn’t have been so bad

to open the doors. But even those left out
had a chance to walk the fifty silver stairs.
Those are for anyone. Worn down by daily feet
in common time, they keep their ancient promise.
“No one can keep you from us, least of all us.
We are for all who find us, all who climb
even a step or two, even by chance,
even just to return a book to someone—

Just? There’s no ‘just’ about something like that.
No chance, either. Whatever your purpose was,
it melts into our history, so silver
now pours into your act, and all your motions
will bear our shimmer, unbeknownst to you.”
That was what happened when I brought the book,
and saw you glaring on the stairs inside,
and turned around, confused, and went back down.

Image: Canaletto, A capriccio with a monumental staircase (drawing, c. 1755 – c. 1760).

I changed two words in this poem after posting it. I like this poem, even if no one else does. It has a rather unreliable narrator, who is making up stuff about the person she criticizes for (supposedly) doing the same about her. But still, even in that unreliability, there is some truth.

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  • “Setting Poetry to Music,” 2022 ALSCW Conference, Yale University

  • Always Different



    Diana Senechal is the author of Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture and the 2011 winner of the Hiett Prize in the Humanities, awarded by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. Her second book, Mind over Memes: Passive Listening, Toxic Talk, and Other Modern Language Follies, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in October 2018. In April 2022, Deep Vellum published her translation of Gyula Jenei's 2018 poetry collection Mindig Más.

    Since November 2017, she has been teaching English, American civilization, and British civilization at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium in Szolnok, Hungary. From 2011 to 2016, she helped shape and teach the philosophy program at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering in New York City. In 2014, she and her students founded the philosophy journal CONTRARIWISE, which now has international participation and readership. In 2020, at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium, she and her students released the first issue of the online literary journal Folyosó.


    On April 26, 2016, Diana Senechal delivered her talk "Take Away the Takeaway (Including This One)" at TEDx Upper West Side.

    Here is a video from the Dallas Institute's 2015 Education Forum.  Also see the video "Hiett Prize Winners Discuss the Future of the Humanities." 

    On April 19–21, 2014, Diana Senechal took part in a discussion of solitude on BBC World Service's programme The Forum.  

    On February 22, 2013, Diana Senechal was interviewed by Leah Wescott, editor-in-chief of The Cronk of Higher Education. Here is the podcast.


    All blog contents are copyright © Diana Senechal. Anything on this blog may be quoted with proper attribution. Comments are welcome.

    On this blog, Take Away the Takeaway, I discuss literature, music, education, and other things. Some of the pieces are satirical and assigned (for clarity) to the satire category.

    When I revise a piece substantially after posting it, I note this at the end. Minor corrections (e.g., of punctuation and spelling) may go unannounced.

    Speaking of imperfection, my other blog, Megfogalmazások, abounds with imperfect Hungarian.

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