Listen to David Thoreen reading this poem. Father, thick in his gray-beige coat and scratchy cap, lumbers through the house. Supper over, he turns the yard to ice. This is December. Water jumps from the hose like light and slides across the snow. I clear the table. Mother builds a fire.
The dishes dry, we listen to the fire
and stare at Father in his ghostly coat
floating dimly through the falling snow.
The door slides open. He steps into the house—
eyes so cold and distant that we jump:
glasses fogged, moustache made of ice.
Sometimes at night I listen to the ice
cubes breaking in my glass, the whiskey’s fire
melting the oldest failures: the time I jumped
unnoticed from my father’s Polaris, his coat
with the whine of his machine receding, the house
across the lake an hour’s walk through whirling snow.
Or the time our father trudged us through the snow
at Avon Woods and sent me out on the ice
to rescue the hand-painted decoys he’d housed
in the cove. When I broke through he built a fire
on the shore, made me strip, and gave me his coat.
In warmer thoughts I see my mother jump
at the end of Father’s rink. To see her jump
again! her skates as magic as the snow,
her building turn, her spinning leap, her coat
flaring against the air. For this the ice
was made. For this and Mother’s laugh and the fire
of our burning fingers once inside the house.
So it was when I was twelve: the house,
the records playing “Sleigh Ride,” our mother’s jumps
and laughter. But Father started drinking. Fired
for stealing deadbolt locks, he moved like snow
that winter, drifting across the yard’s dark ice
in silence, wearing his anger like a coat.
From finger to finger frostbite jumps—like fire
from room to room. Our mother wraps her housecoat
tight (her price) and writes our names in the snow.