#3

Centreville

On the landing where the stairs meet
memory travels up and down. Up will lead
to offices, blocked-in porches, halls and passages
that head to nowhere fast. Framed in a window
wave the leaves of aged citrus trees. Only the oranges
survive. They say this was a plantation. They say
it harboured slaves. But blocks were laid
between the wars. The portico sheltered Buicks and Fords
lately landed from the boat. Up the stairway swept
women in décolleté and beads, with shingled hair
and escorts like limp reeds.
………………………………………..A stained-glass window
bleeds light into the hall whose Spanish tile
was scuffed by modest feet. Ten years the house
held parties, welcomed guests, then came another war.
The owner left, or died. The property was sold, the trees
were mown, the orchard squared into lots. Only the respectable
need apply. The western wall segregated the town.

But now, Centreville is empty. For twenty years, it was a school:
only the white-skinned need apply. For forty more,
the Ministry of Education squeezed itself into its rooms.
Partitions bisected archways, and plastic toilets
abutted basins and tubs of the finest British porcelain.
The walls were slaked with institutional green. On the landing
where the stairs meet, to travel upward is to drown.

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