Figuring Out the Downhill


Figuring Out the Downhill

She was stranded
at the side of the slope, blonde hair straining
from her cap, dark roots no anchor
in this white; a novice slope, but steep here
for a novice.

I thought I understood, being a novice too,
what it was to not bear
to aim your skis downhill one more time, not even
for the space of the turn,
but her children had gone ahead, she said–

Eyes like snow glistening only
circled grey,
face made up
to keep up,
and how’d she’d arranged this trip,
she said, wanting them to have
a good time–

My husband saying, you want some help?
and they’ll be okay, seeing how stranded
the woman’s face was
beneath her cap.

(He knew how I was too
skiing, you know, about speed
and letting go–)

They were from New Jersey, she said,
and that her husband
had been a trader, Cantor Fitzgerald–

And this being New York and late December 2001,
we did not breathe
for a while after she said that,
not even the fir trees breathed,
not even the leafless deciduous–she was almost
in the woods–
only the other skiers whooshed
for they had not heard her, and she shuddered
as they swang past, and
all they found, she said, was his hand,
so lucky, truly, something, DNA,
to bury–

And he said–my own husband–here,
reaching out his glove, and all you need
right now
is just to get to the other side,
and he gestured
towards the white blank space beside us–hardly even going down
at all, or just a little–

and can you do that?
While I just wanted
to sit and weep, only I’d
fallen once already, and knew how hard it was
to get up again
on skis–

And anyway this story
is not about me–

He skied backwards slowly–
arms outstretched, you’re doing

While I made myself take the slope on my own,
knowing it was only for a few minutes,
which made it possible.

At the bottom, the incline tapered,
broadened, so that even a novice
could feel in control, so that even a novice
would feel like they might try it
again, the sun shining in that blinding expanse
like glass—

I know I say everything is a draft poem, but this really is. But it’s April, so if you are trying to do a poem a day, you have to settle for what you do that day. I am so sorry not to return comments for a couple of days, but I expect to be considerably freer tomorrow. Thanks for your kindness.

Process notes: for non-New Yorkers–Cantor Fitzgerald was a trading/brokerage firm whose offices were in the World Trade Center. Many many of the employees at work on 9/11 died due to the location of the offices towards the top of the WTC.

Ps I am sorry for sentimentality of pic and possibly piece.

PPS– Agh–just edited this piece –I had started saying it was January 2002 then switched to December and left the 2002.  Of course, it was meant to be 2001.

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15 Comments on “Figuring Out the Downhill”

  1. brian miller Says:

    i used to ski quite a bit before i crushed my legs…and i have been her…i remember the fear of just starting and perception making the slope feel more…having one there to reassure you…it’s price…because you can feel so alone out there…

  2. hedgewitch Says:

    I don’t find it sentimental, k–it is full of heart and emotional depth, but it’s all very real, not sanitized into sentimentality at all–and the metaphor is *so* blindingly good–you put the reader through the mill here, and at the end, there is great clarity and a universal message, very strong, of emerging from terror and loss and grief with grace. Just excellent, and another instant favorite. Hope your stress and travails of yesterday are winding down.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thanks. I do not downhill ski very much at this point but I went this past weekend and could not help remembering this. (Probably the last time I went downhill skiing.) It was just so terribly sad.

      I am very hopeful of a lightening!

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      PS – Sorry that I haven’t read your poem yet–I am still working on mine and it is such a particular subject–I read the first line of yours and made myself stop, but I have scribbled something down and hope to get it typed up this evening. k

  3. Mama Zen Says:

    This is beautifully done and not sentimental at all.

  4. Steve King Says:

    A fine narrative in so many respects–and a great idea to support everything. What struck me particularly is that I left this work with an immediate sense of three different personalities: husband, the mother, and the wife. An outstanding achievement in few words, and a task that would be difficult for most to pull off. Excellent…
    Steve K.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thanks–I just realized I mucked up the dating as I’d first been placing it in January 2002–but I thought December worked better and was more accurate, but forgot to change the year. Thank you, Steve, for your kind comments.

  5. claudia Says:

    oh heck.. i was holding my breath… so is this a true story? either way…. it’s a great metaphor for those steep slopes in life as well

  6. “blonde hair straining
    from her cap, dark roots no anchor
    in this white” -That made me smile.

    Like Hedge said, I find this more real than sentimental. Skiing can be terrifying for the beginner.

  7. I loved this opening–and then I was along for the whole ride–sorry to lose you in the shuffle of things–I got hacked–closed my email account and then opened a new one–am slowing finding friends again!

  8. janehewey Says:

    your eighth stanza stuns and silences everything I know about brave and courageous. we think we know what it is like to get up again, and we don’t– especially when getting up looks so very different without the ones we love next to us. this poem reminds me to hold closely and loosely. Your final stanza is beautiful, karin. full of hope and the reminder that we are novices in so many important ways. I don’t know how I missed this in my email box. I am glad you pointed me to it. It is a new favorite and has changed my evening mood to one of gratitude and reflection. thank you.

  9. grapeling Says:

    as noted, this is neither sentimental nor ‘drafty’. having been stuck on a hill before far above my skill, I felt that fear return via your lines – and then you coupled it with the profound sorrow and loss of 9/11 – really a powerful write, K ~

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