Thursday, November 02, 2006

Fire and Ice: A poem for my grandfather

This morning I was thinking of this poem I wrote in college about my grandfather. He died in 2000, after a five year decline. As I re-read the poem, I wonder why, in my editing process all those years ago, I took out the part about him being buried in an avalanch in the Aleutian Islands during World War II. They dug in the snow for hours without finding him, and the tide was coming in. The next in command called off the search, but the men refused to leave him. Eventually they found a hand and uncovered the rest of him. In the original poem, I linked that to his frozen fingernails. I don't know why I took it out. I should work on it some more.

Outside, it is cold and grey. Most of the leaves have blown away, only a few still hang bedraggled onto skeletal branches. A few small snow flakes wander by the window every once in a while, but not enough to make a difference.

Here's the poem.

Fire and Ice

Papaw nearly talked us into 1998
a redundant stutter
until Mom stopped him with a bright excuse
and all the young people scattered
outdoors to set off firecrackers.

I stayed and held his soft hands,
peered at his finger-nails
which have always been brittle like ice
but are now smoother,
as if the ice is melting
and leaving him mortal.

He tried to tell me something.
I couldn’t understand.
The lights exploded outside.
The New Year ticked in.
I felt heaviness in my cheekbones,
He let go
of my hand, and I went out
into the finger-numbing cold to scream
and crouch as whirls of fire flew
over my head and splashed transient
against the everlasting constellations.

1 comment:

Jeremy said...

I love this poem. Too many poems are encumbered by their own complexity, when all the reader asks for is a simple moment that elaborates the whole. This poem does that.