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He lived on the edge of the mountain, my grandfather the smoker,
and sometimes he’d stay until Saturday burned down and ashed,
the rapping of his pipe against the arm of a chair echoing for days
after he’d go a sail down the long curve of the field. At our house
his pipe was alive, it made rooms move, shifting sideways, leaning
like spears, the smoke like sheets seen through. Ceilings came down
on him and lifted away on anyone’s breath, someone calling on him,
an old ice cutter, boots knee-high, scars deep as bones allowed, often
a thread still burned in the flesh of memory, as if that cut had a face.
They’d talk about all-day on the ice, saws serious as pistons, singing,
carving blocks out of the pond we swam in long before August let go,
his pipe and horses’ breaths tiering their gray-white differences, hawks
peaking on slow-motion thermals. They’d talk of bitter cold as if it was
a friend they’d put up with for the good of all concerned, or a fool wind
coming off the pond’s hind quarters the way a girl held on once, and fires
they’d light right out on the ice, like a good friend ought to be talked of.
Crushed ice, shavings thick as orange puree, pieces promising quick liquid,
sloshed underfoot. Horses, looming out of an Arabian skyline, great as all
outdoors, slid the pond under iron shoes enough to sink any man in all that
variety of water, their chains and shackles sure signs of going down good
and for the count, bubbles being the last sign you’d ever see, lots of them,
lots of old men, lots of old horses, eternal as huge blocks of ice, as much
long spirit as any of that clan my grandfather the smoker was part of.