The bell! I race with the boys, from schoolhouse to ocean’s edge.
Bet you can’t follow!
Now that I’m eight, I’m just old enough
to be part of this dangerous game;
to jump from pan to pan of ice.
Last year I watched the boys jump, push, wobble on the ice.
Now I cross my fingers.
Can I keep up?
Spring breezes have transformed the solid ice.
What had been frozen enough to drive wagons across is now
islands and continents, breaking up, jostling together.
The frigid ocean lurks beneath,
his dark undulation hidden
as he flexes his power to dominate.
Large pans of salt-water ice smash together with
devious twins of slob: fragments of ice compressed
by the heaving sea – like flies in treacle.
Jack, the strongest of our boys, races off the shore, jumps on a pan.
It sinks under his weight, his sealskin boots dip in the ocean.
Then he jumps to another rocking clumper; the rest of us follow,
me, hesitant, the tail’s end. I see Jack
dodge the spaces deep with crushed ice and snow slush;
it looks like ghost’s porridge.
Carefully I follow the moves of Pete in front.
I can’t embarrass myself by not keeping up.
I jump, shout, dare the ocean.
We are young gods; we are conquerors!
Then – ocean is around me, bottomless, everywhere.
I had known the ice was solid – but it isn’t.
My feet sink.
I feel the frigid water on my ankles, filling my boots.
My legs flail in the water, then, waist-deep I touch firm ice.
With a jump I make it to a solid pan.
Shaking, I pause for breath, kneel at the edge.
I almost – I could have – .
I had been so sure – .
I look into the eyes of the ocean.
He looks at me, ensnares me.
In his eyes, eternity.
My life till now has been a question,
and this is the answer.