|Oct/Nov 2003 • Poetry|
Then I was four, tracing the letters
on headstones, a reverse braille,
teaching myself to read. Those days she tried
to grow impatiens there before she knew
which ones could take the heat,
which ones would wither in the hot sun.
Merciless August we took turns hauling
metal watering cans and laundry soap buckets
down the gravel path to the pipes. When the tiny
shrubs and weeds were watered
we wandered, no place as safe as a cemetery.
The grass in that graveyard was greener
than at home, where lawn care meant finding
a man strong enough to lug the push mower
through knee-high grass and dandelions.
There I learned about different kinds of granite,
different script. There my brother first discovered
how to run, sprints and hurdles. There we exercised
the dogs, avoiding the city park where father
had died. I worried about the soft ground,
about how, running too fast one of us might fall,
and how would she ever get a toddler or a dachshund
out of an eight-foot hole.
Chopping driveway ice with a red metal shovel. I dislodge a section, hear the suction. Old time ice men broke up the lake, shouldered thick chunks house to house. The translucent top sheet lifts like a magic writing pad. Back then we could erase, ignore the imprint on the sticky, licorice black beneath. Under ice red bricks appear. Who should do the shoveling, a girl or boy? Ice chopping is hard. My shoulders ache, but I won't stop chopping. There is power behind the shovel. White on red. At six I slid the slope to the frozen creek bed with my brother. A Hiawatha sled performs differently when it hits a patch of ice. Acceleration changes, instant alteration of vectors, angles, glide. The creek was a physics lab. Rusty runner blades bruise small fingers, but won't amputate. Paper snowflakes taped over navy blue night windows. Snowflakes knitted into the palms of red mittens. Even if it runs over the mittened-hand. Skating at night, the outdoor rink. Wet mittens, wet corduroy knees. Something about gliding over ice, the rhythm of blades over tiny-veined ruts, so many paths etched, one more time around, over and over the oval. It's a flattened pearl, a dressing table mirror like mother's. The jolt over a chunk too big to splinter, too late to swerve around. The rhythm of ice chopping, a direct hit, a certain turn of handle loosens more. Under mother's marble table we made maps, roads drawn in graphite while we lay on our backs with a ruler. To trace the directions we could take, to plan his disappearance: stop, yield, go. The signs. Red wagon with its constant need to roll, chopping ice for his many margaritas, white powder on his hand held mirrors, red sirens against white. A frozen lake can hold so much, hold children skating under cold nights and stars sharp as mother's diamond, snow like a white dove lost under dusting powder. I should go home, but I don't want to leave.