Breathe in experience, breathe out poetry. ~ Rukeyser
It was only a few inches of frozen water covering what was once a city garden, us
like blue-green parakeets, keeling, confined,
flew round and round
a mass of squawking
After a thirty-three-year lapse
I am on ice. Like some twisted mistake
this passage of years and
for the first time ever
on a lake, not Larz Anderson
carved out of the city like a chicken wing
from its carcass.
Sitting on a crowded bench,
one of the last times
stranger’s thighs pressing against mine
heading for the big-kid rink
lacing my white girlie skates,
when that cigarette red tip pierced into my flesh.
It hurt like hell and I pretending
Now, trying to save my wrists
to scrap the tip of the skate and twirl
I have fallen.
For a moment I imagine myself
an owl in the night, Persephone gliding down
into the Underworld, compliant.
Then flinging myself
Anne Sexton style
giving myself over to ten inches of cracks, jiffies, fissures like rifts
continental plates, dinosaur ribs snaking down ice into water.
The whiteness stretches into the horizon and
if I blur my eyes
I cannot distinguish water from land from skies.
It’s all white. It’s all the same.
Lake skiers look like herons diving
in the distance, a person walking an apparition,
God on the edge.
I don’t want him to come.
Back then, I am dressed as only a child can be
swaddled, like an Indian baby on my mother’s back
her speaking Algonquian
living in a Hogan
Iroquois incarnated in a Jewish family.
They told me they found me in a dye vat
in Haverhill. Pulled me out and brought me home.
They told me I was really Indian.
Abandoned but rescued.
I swear I cried until my soul leaked out and another’s in
in that tiny kitchen
my brother sitting across the table
In the home movies
my mother stands
1950s knee-length tweed coat,
shoes on ice, smiling at my father holding
Beauty that she was, happy and
so in love.
Maybe the only woman in Boston
not crazed with motherhood,
and I a waddling baby duck hold her hand
dreaming of mountains
running away on the backs of horses
the wind flying
my hair, a long black mane.
I was so afraid to let go
don’t remember the moment
and maybe I just never have.
Why bother when we all end up
together in the same earth anyway?
Anne Sexton living just on the other side of the dike,
writing poetry for her mother writing poetry
while she rubbed against her daughter in the morning
gave men blow jobs in the parking lot of the Newton Wellesley Hospital at night.
Plucking away a possessed woman
pulling words like feathers from a living bird or
worms from the stomach of a robin
maybe a red robin
O red red robin,
the children-mothering mother
no sewing lessons in Newton Lower Falls in 1962.
Before Anne Sexton began to write
before her psychiatrist proposed she write
he inquired if there was anything she thought
she might have talent for, do well at in her own Anne way.
Her response, back in that Leave It To Beaver world,
the only thing she could think of
her only talent —
to help men feel sexually powerful, to
please please men.
Soon I will be an old woman
but there is time to pretend a lake the sea and
flinging my brittle bones against the hard water
won’t kill me. So I take baby steps and
eventually I am gliding,
an awkward swan never turned white, mesmerized by the awareness
this is the first flight with steel-tipped plates I have ever skated on a lake.
I stare down through the ice into deep dark blue water
layered with thousands of tiny air bubbles
the same water we kayaked on in the wake of November,
into which my cousin disrobed and dove
a swimmer from the desert saying,
as she toed into the water ever deeper,
“I have never swum in a lake before”
At my joking admonition to watch for snapping turtles, her
barefoot, naked as a jay-bird, lovely,
with that childlike sly Niditch smile
Stuart frequently makes.
I wonder where the river otters go
who live in this lake in winter
the fish they take
all beneath me
When we get in bed that night
I can hardly move,
my rib my shoulder my elbow
my entire body so sore. Feeling as purple
as the purple finch I watched today
slam into the glass door and
hover there before my stay.
Seeing only herself in the reflection, the forest behind
wings beating steadily in her own steadfast way,
erstwhile I panicked and ran,
cut and hanged
a long strip of brightly colored paper, a streak in the sand.
We are drifting off to sleep, in those soft celadon sheets,
snow-covered fir trees swaying in the wind,
the lake we left behind
where my black cat is buried
across Sears Marsh, a mile as Hawk flies. Out here
we mark distance by hawks, owls, running coyotes
snorting deer and burrowing fishers.
And just down the road
means ten miles to go.
The white dog we left behind is snoring on the floor
and suddenly I am drowning.
I have fallen through a hole in the ice and water curls around me
everything is cold and wet and dark and heavy and the hole is gone
the daylight muted,
the hole into the world of the living is nowhere I can find. I am dying, finally,
thinking as I float under the ice looking up
in those few seconds, before a crushing weight begins to fill my lungs,
how funny it is that I have never been afraid of drowning.
It has been fire
since I stood there in the darkness
on Amherst Road, watching
flames rise up into the night sky
and the bodies carried out
one by one
Vinny, that squirrel-murdering bastard,
Peggy screaming for Maria.
© Susan Gesmer
On Thin Ice, 2012