Sunday, December 1, 2013

To Prologize

The external world of my youth, as I know it, was comprised mostly of small towns. A distillation of characters, places and experiences compressed into a catchment oft described as “within walking distance” from each other. Custom with observance played a large part in such places, celebrations and formal recollections marked calendars throughout each year. Holidays coupled with the change of seasons emerged as the reason for being in light of a routine existence. Such events ferment a mythology bubbling from base to cap of our memories, creating a product of equal parts sweet and bitter.  One honeyed time began the day after Thanksgiving in my little inner world as seen through the eyes of a photograph.

(found black and white photograph, unknown origin) 


A narrow road passes 
By the dark shed 
Walled by bush and tree 
Brittle faded yellow, green 
And gray. 
Frames of mountains 
Show first snows 
Disappearing into the valley. 
Close by the peaks 
From roofs break through 
Barren branch of birch, 
Alder and maple. 
A consistent quiet 
Save the old crows 
Preening fluffed feathers 
While young ones trace 
Small white flakes 
Against the sky. 

Through caw and whistle 
A rumble of dust and diesel 
Cuts the cold day air. 
Once dark red 
Now aged with pallor, 
As the rose’s last petal, 
Show’s her face 
Pumper Number Three. 
The truck occupied by two, 
Fireman Tall and Fireman Small, 
Rolls to the place 
Once graced by blankets, 
Baskets of wicker and 
Shirtless children. 
Long past the summer measures 
Now marked for cold pursuits 
To create 
An ice rink. 

The field surrounded 
By board and post 
Waits for Fireman Tall 
Thick and round 
Chewing his cold cigar 
Unfurling a white hose. 
Fireman Small balances 
A giant wrench upon 
His narrow shoulder 
Resembling a mechanic 
Marching off to battle, 
His foe the hydrant. 
Couplings attached 
Nozzle propped high 
Fireman Tall raises a hand 
In unison with the cigar 
Fireman Small pulls hard 
The wrench lurches. 

Water erupts 
Trapped forward as 
Dammed dancers bursting 
To arc and fall upon the ground. 
Fireman Tall stands hands to hip 
Carefully assessing the geometry 
Of distance and time. 
Fireman Small bends 
His thin angles 
Upon the truck bumper 
Staring through small 
Metal diamond shaped holes. 
Each settles in. 
They wait. 
Above old crows look on 
Preening fluffed feathers 
While young ones trace the 
Spray against the sky.

Sheet of Perfection

Small towns of northern bearings sometimes found time to flood a low field, adding boundaries of wood panels to define the lines and curves of the rink. The process required patience over several days, applying thin layers of water to freeze, build up then wait and repeat. Patience and timing were deemed necessary in attaining an even sheen free of cracks and deformities, it was a pursuit for the perfect sheet of ice.

Finally the day arrived pulling occupants of brick, wood and stone away from their place of work or habitation. With anticipation they teemed along a narrow path past rows of tree and shrub still clinging to pale brittle leaves. In the far distance white caps streaked high ridges, evidence of a recent snow soon to cover the valley. Dignitaries embellished the informal excitement huddling round a large metal drum filled with burning wood. Grandmothers shared fresh baked bread combined with their larder endeavors. Shiny urns of coffee and cider flowed near an elderly farmer entertaining the gathers with his mouth harp. Children chased dogs and dogs chased children.

As a casual observer one could become lost in the energy and movement of the event, yet with little effort one could see the greatest focus was on the rink. Arms of all lengths hung over the wooden boards examining the giant curved rectangle with a critical eye. First skaters sat crowded upon long benches, at their feet a path of ice leading to the gate draped with cedar branches bound by red ribbon. Legs shift back and forth, hands cupped against cheeks, tiny streams of steam pass from mouths over heavy caps and scarves.

With few words the dignitaries wave their arms lifting the green and red drape. Young and old flow down the frozen path, through the gap and then the long anticipated meeting … between metal and ice. Gloves and mittens clap while dogs bark. The old farmer smiles displaying what is left of his teeth. Edges create designs below while young crows trace the patterns in the sky above. For a moment there is a vision of perfection before the sun lowers and snow begins to fall.

Chaotic Grace

(the first moments when learning to skate)

Collect the coat
Cover the head
Circle the scarf
Cinch the laces
Clean the blades

Clatter to the edge
Clasp the other
Creep and tilt

Compassion’s hand
Cotton-like voice
Corrals hope
Compels to try
Chaotic grace.

(First Skate - water color, gouache and ink on paper)