Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Dick Allen, Ode To the Cold War

Night Sledding

From Lookout Hill it was a long way down to the village.
The plowed steep road no cars would dare until morning
And the pine trees snowed into each other, forming ruined
Castles and English manor houses and gamekeeper huts
In the ravines and gullies and stark on the ridges,
Seemed more ours than anything would ever be again,
Whether our lives were short or long. I glanced
At the others to see if they felt it: the loosened knot
Of boys whose fathers were mostly off in World War II.
Kneeling and panting in the snow, their bodies
Gnomed by bulky jackets, their faces small round windows
sunk in wool, and saw their tremors
Of frozen-tongued awe, and how they tried to hide them
As I was trying, also, to not say anything
Too stupid or old. There were gusts of wind
Constantly sending clouds of powdered white
Off the rock outcroppings. Above us, a half-blasted moon
Was painted on a white sandpaper field of stars. 

"Let's get going," someone said. Hand-me-down sleds
Lined up, lying on our bellies, boot tips dug into snowruts,
We studied the village below us, the far-off lights
Of the D&H station, the Methodist church steeple,
Lights in the upstairs window of a dozen cottages
And "Isn't this something," the boy beside me whispered,
"Isn't this something!" who started, I don't remember,
But suddenly, faces held up, yelling for dear life,
All of us yelling and whooping, we were steering
Our sleds in great S's as we fell,
None of us trying to win, all of us half-crazed, shouting,
"Watch out! Hang on! Steer to the side!
Steer to the middle! Drop behind! Go ahead!"
Sparks from rocks our runners scraped, and then
At the last sweet drop, an absolute silence among us
As we swooped down, and some of our mothers and sisters
Waiting beneath the streetlights, some applauding
With soft mittened claps as we slowed. Walking home,
My house the last one before the village became a meadow,
I saw a comet streak, leaving in its wake
A crowfoot of light, gone the moment I blinked.

From : Ode to the Cold War Poems new and Selected
By Dick Allen (Sarabande Books, 1997) 

In this narrative poem, the speaker simply describes a group of boys sledding at night; but his description is so exact -- with just the right mix of the real, the imagined, and the philosophical -- to evoke his indelible memory of this moment. The reader can almost hear the "mittened" hands clapping.  I particularly love the line "As I was trying, also, not to say anything too stupid, or old." -- The war looms present, yet is distant enough and the boys who aren't going to be boys for long, some even having "short lives" are awake to life in this moment, perfect, the "sleds in great S's as we fell."

No comments: