Doors are as useful for entering poems as they are for rooms. A lover abandons you, for example. You write a poem. Sadness is the door to the poem. Yes, sophomoric, but clear. Another example. You dream that your father’s ghost visits. How many poems are there about that? Doors, poems. Poems, doors.

I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you everything there is important to know about doors.

Doorknobs were invented before doors. When I first heard this I was skeptical, too. This came to my attention while reading a draft of an Alexis Orgera poem. Dinner in a Thai restaurant on Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica. Alexis and I often dined there. I chuckled a touch at the doorknob line. “No, no, no, Rick, it’s true,” Alexis said quickly. “Come on,” I said even more quickly. Though there was much honesty in her voice I still had difficulty believing doorknobs were invented before doors. According to her poem they were invented almost a thousand years before doors and thousands of miles from where the door would be invented.

Alexis’ sister, Kendall, a college student, had discovered the truth about doorknobs while writing a paper on the dynamics of entering a room*. The history unfolds something like this. On the Greek island of Icaria, I think 1187 BC, a stone was placed at the entrance to an important room. Before entering, a person would pickup the stone and thrust their hand clenching the stone into the room. This was supposed to be a warning to any evil gods inside that they were armed, the stone, and should leave. The Romans adopted this tradition and carried it to what was to become Germany where the door was invented. It’s not hard to see the similarities between stone and doorknob. And as demonstrated earlier, door and poem.

You can force your way into a room. You can’t force your way into a poem. Though many poets have taped a poem to a door then kicked it down. Anger at poems, a force multiplier. In fact, in 1898 the Royal Irish Constabulary, when teaching new members to kick down doors, pinned poems to the about to be assaulted doors**. This practice only lasted five months. To be honest, I am suspect of this fact. But as stated earlier, I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you everything important there is to know about doors. Doors, poems. Poems, doors.

The woman who would try to kill me in a matter of minutes stood on the other side of a door. I was asleep on a sofa, the closest to the that door, the person woken her knock. Though now I remember the sound as something that more resembled the palm of a hand slapping cheap wood and not that of thin flesh over knuckles banging on a door.

So much begins that way, a knock on a door. Doors order the world in a way walls could never dream of.

There is always an instant when murderer and victim are on opposite sides of a door. There is always an instant when a poet and poem are on opposite sides of a door.

I couldn’t describe the door. I could describe the room. But I won’t.

Jeans, t-shirt, army-issue socks, dog tags – that’s what I wear. She also wears jeans. The door is only slightly open. She takes a step back, adding another two feet between us. Her shoulder-length brown hair is tousled. The door is only half-open when I see the gun, nickel-plated 9 millimeter semi-automatic pistol. The gun is level with my stomach. She pulls the trigger. The gun is at the height of my shoulder. She pulls the trigger again. I begin to duck and close the door. She tries to point the pistol at my face and pulls the trigger a third time. The door slams. Quiet.

Doors resent locks but appreciate their necessity.

She had never seen me before. Not even in a photograph. She didn’t know my name. I didn’t know hers. It was a mistake. I wasn’t the man she was hoping to kill. She never apologized. The why of this story is unimportant. The role played by the door is what’s important. The door remained closed.

Doors appear in twenty-three of my poems, most prominently in The Burdens. I feel completely confident in saying that all poets eventually write about doors.

* I can’t imagine what her major is.
** I wonder how many of these Constables were poets?
*** (This poem first appeared in Quarterly West, University of Utah, No. 47, Autumn/Winter 1998-99; is also in The Soup of Something Missing.)
The Burdens

The man carrying a door on his back resembles
an insect crawling across the pavement.
Excuse me, he says to a stranger, do you want to buy my door.
My grandfather stole it from prison when he escaped.
Before that it belonged to a brothel.
No, the stranger replies, prison doors are bad luck.
But brothel doors are good luck, the man with the door responds.
The stranger walks away.

The man carrying a door on his back
can’t stand up straight or turn his head
to see the man carrying a window on his back.

The man carrying a window on his back resembles
a streetlight reflected in a puddle.
Excuse me, he says to the man with the door,
do you want to buy my window, it belonged to my sister
she jumped out of it when she was fifteen.
Before that it belonged to a church. A suicide window
is bad luck, says the man with the door.
But a church window is good luck, the man with the window responds.

They trade their burdens the same way the man with a chimney
becomes the man with a staircase on his back
looking for anyone who wants to climb them.