My father spent his last winter
Making ice-grips for shoes
Out of strips of inner tube and scrap metal.
(A device which slips over the instep
And holds under the shoe
A section of roughened metal, it allows you to walk
Without fear of falling
Anywhere on ice or snow.) My father
Should not have been doing
All that close work
In the drafty workshop, but as though
He sensed travel at the edge of his mind,
He would not be stopped. My mother
Wore them, and my aunt, and my cousins.
He wrapped and mailed
A dozen pairs to me, in the easy snows
Of Massachusetts, and a dozen
To my sister, in California.
Later we learned how he’d given them away
To the neighbors, an old man
Appearing with cold blue cheeks at every door
No one refused him.
For plainly the giving was an asking,
A petition to be welcomed and useful -
Or maybe, who knows, the seed of a desire
Not to be sent alone out over the black ice.
Now the house seems neater: books,
Half- read, set back on the shelves;
Unfinished projects put away.
Mother writes to me: I am cleaning the workshop
And I have found
So many pairs of the ice-grips,
Cartons and suitcases stuffed full,
More than we can ever use.
What shall I do? And I see myself
Alone in that house with nothing
But darkly gleaming cliffs of ice, the sense
Of distant explosions,
Blindness as I look for my coat -
And I write back: Mother, please
= Susannah Wood