She leans against the railing
in the dark stairwell, trying to catch
her breath, now distant and strange
to herself. When her heart began

to fail, her lungs struggled
like tired swimmers reaching for
the wall. The shortest distance left her
short of breath. She told no one how it hurt

to inhale. It was the way she knew
she was still alive. As a teen, she could steal
the ball from older girls mid-
dribble, score at will. Now, frail,

her body shrunk with age, she grabs
the rail as if it were an arm
of someone trying to rob her.



"Inheritance" and "Grandma Ascending the Stair" are part of a cycle of poems that attempt to reconstruct the Brooklyn brownstone at 290 Hicks Street where my Lebanese grandparents and their extended families lived for nearly all of the 20th century. The loss of the house in the 1990s seemed to me the objective correlative of the loss of an immigrant generation—their stories and their silences, their impossible unconditional love and their feuds, their utterly unique personalities, and their constantly confounded desire to be close to one another, often living if not in the same house then certainly on the same block. I have been attracted to the religious practice of venerating one's ancestors, a practice that makes both biological and spiritual sense. I hope that these elegies comprise, if not the foundation, then at least the architectural plan for the spirit house of the dead.