I used to pause at the stop of the stairs

whenever I had to go to the cellar

We lived in an old colonial house in Pennsylvania

the old wooden stairs creaked as you put your weight on them

Cobweb were everywhere and you could see the dirt floor

by the dim light of a small dirty window at ground level

there was a belching coal heater with a tiny window

with its wooden coal bin next to it

the coal trucks used to drive up and dump their thunderous load

through the tiny window with a chute

and we would watch terrified from the living room window

I hated going down there to empty the ash bucket

I didn’t take the time to look around

the only light came from the furnace and one dim light bulb

hanging on a frayed wire from the wood rafters.

I still remember how it made me feel.  Cautious.  Waiting. Dreading.

and I always ran up the stairs and shut the door – and only then

could I breathe out.