Some years you cannot play at all.
When spring comes May-late, the ice recedes
steadily from shore, cracking tectonically,
and the crystalline continents squeeze and contract
ceaselessly, grinding each other adrift
and finally to slushy oblivion.
When spring is that late, the dark, lapping strip
that surrounds the dissolving world
like a medieval cartographer’s dragon or eel
will not, even with a cold snap, affix
the bulky perimeter with a mantle of gloss.
Those, then, are the off-years.
But when spring seems early, yet is not,
the moat between lakeshore and the kingdom of ice
opens awhile then glazes over thinly.
That’s when you can play.
The object is simple:
Hurl a projectile through the newly congealed
surface to the water below. The only rule:
The arc of the trajectory must exceed
the height of your overhead reach
(or, simply, no slamming
the object directly down and through).
So Newton becomes your playmate, whispering
which rock, dropping from a given height,
will attain a certain velocity, delivering
a total mass that cannot be repulsed
by the glittering, inert resistance.
The small, polished boulder, put
like a shot, lacking speed,
smacks to rest resoundingly,
sending queer quavering arpeggios
to lake bottom and back.
And the tiny shard too often spins and glides,
purling through air, slicing
into the frosted finish, but sticking
there like arrowhead to bone.
The hard, one might say Berklean, fact is
only a certain kind of stone, smooth,
rounded to finger-curl, arced
as nearly overhead as the human sling can manage,
can both achieve the necessary altitude
and fall efficiently enough
to bash through to the chilled and fluid
By the time you find one of these,
the sun will have set.
By the time you find another, the moon
will be peeping over the ridge of budding branches.
Hurrying homeward you marvel
how time loses substance and meaning, overlaid
with even the most arbitrary superstructure,
framed by the most childish play.
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Copyright © 2008 by Bradley Steffens
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