Stephen Ash’s Invitation

The proud sea captain who built it
decades before, the grandest house of all
the islands, never imagined a man
like Stephen Ash would one day inherit it,
painting the exposed lath on the ceilings
with bright colors and writing mottos
about life and art right on the walls

of the stairwell. We pass by them
on the way up, pass the bedroom
of his overbearing, practical father, asleep
in the gravesite down the street, to linger
in the room where Stephen once stretched
canvases for the old woman who long ago
rented it, telling him with a raised finger

like his to me as he stands, nearly
to the top of the doorframe, in old, cracked
shoes, his pant-cuffs rolled up, buttons
forgotten on his shirt: “Look around you,
Stevie, gather the truth in your eye.”
Sixty years later, his own attempts at art
have taken over each dusty, faded

landing we come to: distant, lit strands
with trees, odd angles of ocean and sky,
paintings finished and unfinished,
his kind of housekeeping after being kept
by other houses all his life, sealed up
window and door. Now, in the grand ruin
of this house become his ruin, he leads me

to the final stairway, below an opening
so bright it leaves the two of us almost
in darkness, its light, his light. Above us
as I climb behind him, the sound of the wind
that blew away the last rail of the widow’s
walk last winter grows in our ears, but
never mind, he says, on the windiest days

he ties the rope cinched there to the rafter
around his waist so he won’t blow
away, too. And suddenly Stephen’s outside
on the roof so I can stand on the top step,
with him in the wind and light. Far off,
beyond the the town’s settled streets and rows
of gravestones, the shimmering islands,

large and small, break free from the land,
their wild, beautiful trees floating as if
on air all the way to the horizon. “Look,”
is all he says, oddly calm with his flying
white hair and his smile that is not mad
exactly. Then I stand out on the roof
beside him as the two of us gather it in.