Skiing with Zuzana
I have a box full of poems about whiteness
but only one that tells a story of happiness,
which is the poem, Zuzana, that you’re reading now,
settling on this page like blackbirds on the snow
you brought me to in south-eastern Germany
where you and father tried to teach me how to ski.
I could only look at you and laugh Ms Hrabetova,
as your skis caressed the mountain like a lover
but even I managed once to cleave the air,
almost before I knew it, in a slant of laughing terror
as my mass transformed to movement with a stroke.
Don’t cross the skis Bill, break, break!
I was flat on my ass in my borrowed gear
for the thirty-fifth time when there they were:
a cluster of cobalt weeds in a tree-crevice,
their lavender fragility crisped with ice.
Each stem and petal seemed to blur, to float
outside itself, as if these were the colours Novalis sought.
Their phylum, species, genus I don’t know,
being expert neither with flowers nor snow
but they were basic and renewable, had witnessed dew
and storms and their afterglow and I wanted to pick them for you.
But something about their feat
of bleak survival made me hestitate.
They were the mountain’s gift to us, to tell us we were loved
and sheltered by its vastness. They should not be removed
as badge for lapel, trophy for buttonhole or well-meant token,
but left for those shapely frauleins, the nimble children
who coast down the slope in bobble-hats and spandex,
each piece of gleaming kit exquisitely and visibly branded.
Those weeds would be a renewable blue resource
if I let them be, but in our hands they would die within hours.
I did not take them in your father’s glove.
For words are like this. It is the tiny ones I love.
Blooming on street corners, suspended in the ice
of dictionaries, they survive beneath our notice,
flourish in the language quietly, decline and grow,
renew themselves each summer like flowers after snow.
They trouble no one and should be left alone,
not parched and pressed into some flimsy poem.
But because you taught me how to ski, and because I know,
deep down, that your mind is clean as snow
only for you, Zuz, would I break each stem
and make them rhyme. For who else would I disturb them?