My writer’s desk is surrounded by death spikes

In summer 2018, Neologism Poetry Journal published my poem, “Readiness,” which begins:

Bits of wildflowers find their way
into my hand and into my dirt.
The purpose of the seeds: to become their parents.

They were morning glories.

Close-up of two purple bell-shaped flowers.
My morning glories, photographed October 4, 2020.

Yesterday, the apartment building manager said that contractors would come to our second-floor balcony to “install something.” To receive them with grace, I tidied the balcony by repotting those morning glories. One had grown long, and I seated the pot in the windowbox and tossed its vines over the side of the balcony like Rapunzel’s hair so that the passersby could enjoy them, too.

Afternoon came, and it seemed the handypeople were not coming. Then, while sitting at my writer’s desk at the corner window that faces east and south, a strip of metal weaved through my field of vision, as if alive, as if wrapping the house of its own accord. Moments later, the man who was holding it came into my field of vision, too. He was crawling backwards on his hands and knees through my compost in the windowbox. The strip of metal was to be installed on the perimeter of the balcony.

Here is the result:

Corner window on the second floor overlooking a busy urban street with many metal spikes on the balcony edge.
My corner window, showing my writing desk and the balcony.

They installed 178 three-inch, barbed, flame-shaped metal spikes on the edge of the balcony and windowbox. 13 on the west side, 106 on the south side, 50 on the east side, and 9 on the north side. I did not know this was going to happen.

(There are additional spikes outside the bedroom window, too.)

It is supposed to make me feel safer? It does not. It is not my backdrop of choice for my writing desk where I make poetry and anti-fascist essays. It offends me and makes me anxious.

I understand that millions of people are actually in jail. I understand that I am not actually in jail and that what I am complaining about is merely a carceral aesthetic. I understand that some people like this aesthetic and truly feel safer when surrounded by such a physical deterrent to break-ins. I understand that I am not trapped in my room, despite other kinds of real restrictions that the pandemic places on my movement. I understand that I am unlikely to accidentally injure myself because the spikes slope outward away from the person standing on the balcony and that I am not personally at risk for self-harm.

I understand that most writers do not have the privilege of their own quiet, sunny home office—spikes or no.

I understand that my complaint is significant mainly to me and may seem petty to others.

Of course, the construction worker also stole my potted morning glories. I’d like to believe the flowers were kidnapped in kindness and are alive somewhere, but broken Rapunzel vines were left behind.

The time I’ve spent in this apartment is the longest I’ve ever lived in any one place as an adult. As a kid, I lived in three houses for six years each; then I was in college dorms; after college, I had 12 consecutive addresses before this apartment where I have just completed three years.

So I’d like to believe the vines that spiraled slowly down my balcony did not suddenly, when I wasn’t looking, transmute themselves into barbed wire; that they were always only flowers, pure and innocent; that there was nothing else in their DNA.

My poem “Readiness” ended:

They sprout
tendrils that slowly unfold tinctured secrets.
You are becoming what you always were.
I water you. I do not remember what you are,
but do not let me stop you.


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