Returning to the old house,
now still, vacant,
staring with unshaded eyes
upon a snowy front garden,
shrubs overgrown with the
lustiness of summer
now split to the ground
taxed with a heavy snow.
I tried to light the parlor stove,
cranky old smoker
clanking and rattling
in the best of times
now given up the ghost,
cold metal unyielding to wadded paper
and an old mouse nest.
Now the silence of the rooms
broken by hissing wind
whipping around eaves
rattling old bones in the attic,
stirring the haunts asleep in corners.
It took time for twigs to catch
water turn to coffee
bacon, eggs brought from the city
cooked in an old iron skillet–
tasting far better in the country air.
I looked down at hands cracked
in the brittle winter light,
hair static with electricity,
feet numb from the cold
the woodstove not giving
more heat than an ice cube.
Walking down to Olsen’s pond,
Looking through the glassine surface
remembering the boy who had fallen
through while playing hockey
slipping under thin ice,
disappearing without a sound,
only noticed when our puck flew
High in the air and he, the guard, missing.
We skated to the edge, threw bodies flat
trying to catch him just out of reach,
crying like babies, snot running down chins,
knowing he was floating just under the ice–
silenced like the lamb he was.
Childhood ended that day.
We drifted away to the city,
our skates and sticks put up,
Olsen’s pond deserted like a haunted minefield.
Fifty years ago I still remember
stretched as far as I could
belly freezing on treacherous ice,
grasping 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’s play.