Poems can sometimes behave like short stories, like very short stories. They set the scene, bring the reader in and then leave them with an uncertain longing.
In just fifteen lines, the poem below tells the story of two couples, of neighbors, of marriage, of winter. The title lets the reader know what to expect from the very beginning: there is to be a crossing over to an intimate landscape for a chilling view of the life of others. Chilling, perhaps, because this view is so commonplace, so familiar, despite the piece’s veil of otherness, of voyeurism. The act of “crossing,” then, is a departure that finally arrives at an icy place that might look a bit too much like the heart of home.
The author is Ash Bowen, a widely published poet and Professor of Creative Writing and Literature at the University of Alabama, and the poem is from his book “The Even Years of Marriage,” which won the 2012 Orphic Prize for Poetry.
Under winter’s deck of stars,
my neighbor advances onto the pond, careful
as ever, each step a test
of the uneasy ice.
On the bank behind him, his wife.
Before him, the lover he cannot get over.
All winter I’ve watched his nightly back-and-forth.
But tonight my wife pulls the curtains closed.
She shuts off the lamp, tumbles
her braid down her back.
Her true love stands in the shut dark
of her eyes—waiting
beneath the thinnest strip of moon.
In our bed, there’s only
a sudden collapse of ice.
Photo Credit: Cover art from Ash Bowen’s “The Even Years of Marriage”
—Ana Maria Caballero, Zeteo Contributing Writer