“Olsen’s Pond”, Poetry for OneshotPoetryWednesdays

We are socked in with a Winter Storm in Atlanta.  Sunday it started and we aren’t supposed to have drivable streets until the weekend.  The snow wasn’t huge, around 6 inches for Atlanta and much more in the northern counties.  But the ice that formed right after the snow storm has made it treacherous.  We have two sleds, rarely used, and we are sledding on ice and snow.  Someone is going to break an arm, probably me.

I posted “Olsen’s Pond” last week, but because of the snow this one, I’m posting it again.  Plus, it goes with the terrain outside.

Lady Nyo


I returned to the old house,

now still, vacant,

staring with unshaded eyes

upon a snowy front garden,

shrubs overgrown with the

lustiness of summer and neglect

now split to the ground,

taxed with a heavy snow.

I tried to light the parlor stove,

old cranky cast iron smoker

clanking and rattling

when heated in the best of times

now given up the ghost,

cold metal unyielding to wadded paper

and an old mouse nest.

The silence of the rooms only broken

by hissing wind whipping around  eaves

rattling old bones in the attic,

stirring the haunts sleeping in  corners.

It took a time for twigs to catch,

the water to turn coffee,

bacon and eggs brought from the city

and cooked in an old iron skillet–

tasting far better in the country air.

I looked down at hands cracked

in the brittle winter light,

moisture gone,

hair static with electricity,

feet numbed from the chill,

that woodstove not giving up

more heat than a miser.

I walked down to Olsen’s pond,

looked through the glassine surface

remembered the boy who had fallen

through the ice playing hockey–

slipped under the thin cover, disappearing

without a sound,

only noticed when our puck flew

Up in the air and he, the guard, missing.

We skated to the edge, threw bodies flat

trying to reach him just out of catch,

crying like babies, snot running down chins,

knowing he was floating just under the ice,

silent as the lamb he was.

Childhood ended that day for many of us.

We started to drift away to the city,

our skates and sticks put up,

Olsen’s pond deserted like a haunted minefield.

Fifty years ago I still remember that day

when stretched as far as I could

my belly freezing on treacherous ice,

straining to reach a life just out of sight,

his muffler and stick floating to the surface–

The boy, the important part,

gone for good from a chilly winter day.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2009,2011

From “White Cranes of Heaven” soon to be published.

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18 Responses to ““Olsen’s Pond”, Poetry for OneshotPoetryWednesdays”

  1. RepressedSoul Says:

    Great memoir poem the lone *we lost our childhood that day* just bought it home for me. And food always tastes better when cooked in the country 😉
    Fantastic write x


  2. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Shanhendry!

    I’m so glad this poem had resonance with you. It’s one of my favorite and an early one at that. Its voice is pretty stripped down and simple.

    And yes, food always tastes better in the country on a wood stove.

    Thanks for reading and leaving a comment.

    Lady Nyo


  3. Laura Hegfield Says:

    oh they ending is so heart breaking. I was talking with my sister who also lives in Atlanta….they can’t get out of their apt. complex…my other sister did a google search and apparently there are only 8 snow plows for the whole city…we have 8 snow plows in our tiny town, but we live in NH so you’d expect that up here. Stay cozy.


  4. waystationone Says:

    oh snap…i was relating as i lived in a house heated only by fire…and then the one slipping under the ice caught me…ugh…childhoods end indeed…nice one shot


  5. dustus Says:

    Beautifully sad. The language you use in the beginning indicates the unfairness of life; taxing, miserly…. the ending leave me with a reminder of how easily life can end. Wondering where the pond is (if based on a real one) since not much ice skating in Hotlanta. Either way, felt like I was there. Vivid write, Lady Nyo


  6. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Laura…
    The trick with this kind of theme is not to write it maudlin. That’s the temptation I think. But with something like this, you can’t avoid heart break.

    Atlanta Winter Storm: Yep, it’s very dangerous out there. People are trying now to venture out..mostly walking to stores….for basics. But the stores are mostly not open. So…it’s again an issue of preparing Longterm for things like this to happen. IF we had a power outage along with the ice and snow, we would all be very much in a pickle. So far, the power has remained on. That’s because the ice didn’t form too heavily on the powerlines and trees, just the road for some reason.

    Yep….8 snow plows…and they are arguing whether it would be right to buy more because they don’t think things like this will happen often…well, part of the problem is that it’s not the snow so much…it’s ice. And you can’t plow the 1 inch of ice under the snow.

    Frankly, with the weather patterns changing so drastically over the past few years…I think this kind of weather is going to happen more and more. We’ve had three snow storms (though one was not much of a storm) since early December. This is VERY unusual…but we also had 90 days of 90 plus temps during the spring and summer. Go figure.

    I’m glad we got the wood in…we heat with a woodburning stove and it’s good and warm in here…too warm upstairs where I want to open a window at night, but tonight it’s going to be in the mid teens overnight and all this lovely slush will turn again….to ice.

    Thank you for reading and leaving a comment, Laura.

    Lady Nyo


  7. ladynyo Says:

    Thanks, btm….

    That wood fire is good, but you have to get up in the middle of the night to stoke it with more wood. It’s interrupted sleep around here all winter.

    I think most of us, growing up, knew of one or more tragedy like this from around our childhood….that’s if we lived in the countryside. There were a number of them when I grew up. This one I remembered.

    Thank you for reading and leaving a comment.

    Lady Nyo


  8. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Adam!

    I didn’t realize that there was a difference in voice, language in the beginning of the poem, but now I see what you are saying. It’s an adult voice in the beginning…impatient, dismissing perhaps….

    Then the pivot of the poem….the actual pond, which really was not called Olsen’s pond, I haven’t a memory what it was, if it even had a name, but I gave it this name because I grew up near the Olsens, in rural New Jersey. It actually was Olsen’s Hill that we skied and sledded down. Belle Mead New Jersey, River Road is the exact place….a haunted, childhood place that had ghosts from the Revolutionary War and before.

    Yes, life can end so easily. My dear friend Bill Penrose, who is an excellent writer and makes my books go….could have lost his own life this weekend as he was going to the rally for Gifford in Arizona. Three miles away and he overslept. Since there were only 25 people there and 20 were shot, Bill could have been very much a target. I am so grateful that my dearest friend escaped this fate.

    Thank you, Adam…for reading and leaving this comment.

    Lady Nyo


  9. hedgewitch Says:

    A clean and compelling narrative full of homely little details that suddenly turns larger-than-life tragic. Dramatic without melodrama–a strong piece in a clear and human voice. The older we get, the more we see the ghosts, I think.


  10. hollyheir Says:

    I’m caught up in the poem and the comments. I’ve spent half my life in the service of figure skating. I know many stories and yet the entirety of your piece captured me. I felt I was there and the walk to the pond took me to many frozen surfaces with little children there. Then to read of an angel guarding your friend Bill was as affecting as your poem. Thank you for sharing these wonders with me today, Jane, dear. Gay @beachanny


  11. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Gay!

    I watched the program with the women’s program for the past few weeks: this Alissa Czerny? is that her name…and I cried….I even bought the music: “Winter Into Spring” because I thought it would be a good source for poetry….and wrote a slight poem from what she skated to.

    She was so marvelous…so natural and exact, free, flowing…natural. I just cried at the beauty of what she was doing…saw it again today and it still moved me deeply.

    I am the worst skater in history…rubber ankles, and I skated since I was 9 years old…and I CAN’T skate more than a few yards! How I admire you, Gay, even more now I know you are a skater! It’s something truly beyond me.

    There is a simplicity of voice with this poem that I think I was unaware of when I wrote it. It’s a very early poem…one of my first…just about three years ago…or even less. I think as we write poetry, we get a better sense of what makes a poem…what makes it fetching….through the comments and analysis of readers. I know I do. I can’t ever really crit my own poems….they are a blur usually to me. It takes readers, other poets, to reveal the poem to me many times…oh, I get it on a very low level, but readers fill in the important blanks for me. Perhaps this is what happens in the beginning when you first write poetry?

    Bill Penrose: Well, what can I say? This friend is someone who has stood with me in the roughest of times….as a writer and as a woman who was stupidly duped by someone who saw a rube. LOL! Bill is this big Canadian, who is a biochemist and one of the best, most polished fiction writers I have ever read. He deserves fame and fortune, but will settle for friendship.

    Thank you, Gay, for reading and leaving such a comment.



  12. ladynyo Says:

    You are right. The older we get the more we see the ghosts.

    These things that happen in childhood…we suppress them on a certain level, but they never leave. They pit and scar our psyche….we live with them down deep, and they rise to the surface like a boil.

    I guess we can compose fiction, poems to them, and perhaps that memorializes them for us? Makes sense, gives a tolerable shape? Perhaps by doing so they don’t continue to be nightmares?

    Thank you, Joy…for reading and your insightful comment. I learn so much here.



  13. Kavita Says:

    Oh… this was ONE compelling read! Sad and melancholic, it evokes many an emotion from the reader …
    Nostalgia mixed with fearful memories really makes a gripping read!
    I soooo hope this was fiction though..


  14. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Kavita,

    It was fiction..mostly.

    Even though I wrote it, it still makes me cry. Childhood evokes a lot of fearful memories.

    Thank you for reading and leaving this comment, Kavita.


    Lady Nyo


  15. Shashi Says:

    Dear Lady Nyo

    Ahh!!! the power of memories and the feelings when the age and experiences mature… I liked this one

    ॐ नमः शिवाय
    Om Namah Shivaya
    Twitter @VerseEveryDay


  16. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Shashi!

    Thank for reading and leaving a comment. I don’t think I could have written this poem years ago. You are very right: it takes age and a certain maturity to sum these things up without collapsing.

    Life is full of tragedy. Extracting the lessons out of this takes distance I think.


    Lady Nyo


  17. bkmackenzie Says:

    Really sad for me, being a lover of Hockey…so very sad for this boy and his family…I grew up with ice…and the stories were there year after year….nice OSW…bkm


  18. ladynyo Says:

    Hi BK,

    Well, someone asked me if it was fiction….it happened, and happens, all over rural areas where there is snow and ice. I remember very vaguely other stories, a boy hanging himself in a barn and how none of the adults would talk about it, a shooting where a young teen was killed, and these things don’t leave your memory. These things happened in the country, and they were shocking then. They might simmer beneath the surface for decades, but they are too strong of incidents to forget completely.

    That is what it is with any writer…we strain backwards to remember these ghosts that haunt. I’m putting together a collection of essays on my childhood called “Memories of a Rotten Childhood”….and some of these are so damn painful to write that I can’t do more than a few paragraphs before I have to stop. That’s life for anyone I think. But the poignant, tragic are mixed with the hilarious.

    That’s childhood…a messed up time with all the garbage of adults and our own chaos.

    Thanks for reading and leaving a comment, BK.

    Lady Nyo


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