1123: In the House With No Doors by Sarah Kay

20240522 Slowdown

1123: In the House With No Doors by Sarah Kay


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

In college, I worked in the computer lab. Picture the characters in your favorite TV show or movie about geeks, which I call, lovingly: socially awkward, slightly arrogant, MENSA-destined know-it-all’s. Except, we were brown, from multiple countries: Iran, India, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and the US. A group of us moved into a multi-floored brownstone near campus: women on the second floor and guys on the first floor.

I miss those days. One of us was a reservist who had to train twice a month. Someone else partied at clubs and brought home friends at night. Another became the big brother to a roommate who was pledging his fraternity, and one housemate was depressed. He missed classes and slept the day away. At night, he ordered take out Chinese and played video games until sunrise. Then, he would blanket the windows.

Like we cared for each other, we cared for him. Before his parents visited, we helped clean his room, worked with him to catch up on his classes. Weekends, we cooked delicious brunches and danced through the entire house at night, abandoning our troubles.

Today’s poem speaks to the intimacy roommates share, how sometimes we start off as strangers then, as we enter into each other’s routines, become the best of friends.

In the House With No Doors
by Sarah Kay

we have given up on knocking.
Incoming! we say, with our eyes lowered for modesty,
or, Hello! or sometimes, Sorry, sorry!
You have to pass through everyone’s bedroom
to get to the kitchen. We only have two bathrooms.
As a courtesy, nobody will poop while you are showering,
but they might have to do their makeup or shave
if they are in a rush, if we have somewhere to be,
so you can recognize every person by their whistle
through a wet shower curtain, you haven’t seen your own face 
on an unfogged mirror in weeks. It doesn’t matter,
self-consciousness has no currency here. 
If you were nosy, I suppose the little bathroom trashcans
would spill their secrets to you, but why bother, 
privacy is a language we don’t speak.
Someone is always awake before you, 
the smell of coffee easing you into a today 
they have already entered,
a bridge you will never need to cross first, 
and no matter how latenight your owl, 
there is always someone still awake
to eat popcorn with, to whisper your daily report to,
to compare notes on what good news you each caught in your nets.
In bed, you say, Goodnight! in one direction
and someone says it back, then turns and passes it,
so you fall asleep to the echo of goodnights down the long hallway
’til it donuts its way back around to your pillow.
Someone is doing a load of laundry, 
if anyone wants to add some extra socks?
Someone is clearing the dishes, 
someone has started singing Gershwin in the backyard
and you can’t help but harmonize,
and for a moment what you always hoped was true 
finally is: loneliness has forgotten your address,
french toast browning on the stovetop,
the sound of everyone you love
clear as the sun giggling through the window,
not even a doorknob between you.

"In the House with No Doors" by Sarah Kay. Used by permission of the poet.