The quilted snow unrolled and blown overnight
obscures the lake’s edge, marked earlier
by the frozen reeds. The frost and wind
break them down, crush their arc into white,
So five boys with skates
step cautiously out, listening to the crunch
of sole against frozen earth, prodding
with their long sticks, half disarmed
by the serene white, half terrified the ice
they find will open under them suddenly, then suddenly
shut, washed back, sealing them in blackness
like a freezer door slamming.
Just as the skates’
laces cut into their shoulders, their own weight
creases the ice that may be under them. Gravity
seems now to them like a sharp wind to sailors
their senses strain to measure and predict.
As I drive the farm road to work in Barre,
I see them walking there, tenderly, as though
they’d lost a pearl among the morning drifts.
They’re weighed down with stories of falling through,
hesitating, just as I am.
But at dusk, when I return,
they are still there, now princes of snow, regardless
of terrors and cautions, playing in a ring of white.
They’ll stay until it’s too dark to see the road,
laughing, then go home. They’ll have forgotten the early
search, their good luck that the tenuous white
held. Only in stories, they’ll think, does it not,
even as the dark is coming down around them tonight
like dust as they glide and sleep.
Frank Stewart’s The Open Water was published in 1982 by Floating Island Publications. He lives in Honolulu. (1984)