With thaw and cold, the early winter snow lay
In brownish patches on the fields, inspected
By the crows, and though the olive-colored water
Still mushroomed up and mottled the center
Of our lake with obscure streaks and bruises,
They came that Sunday, after early worship,
With skates across their shoulders, and, lacing up,
Debated who should be first that year to try
The ice that nudged the pier and breakwater.
Nearby, dinghies leaned against a summer stand,
And, on the point, a lighthouse stood, mute
Until the spring. At last, three boys moved off,
Their shaky weight dispatching splits and groans
That, for a moment, stilled them in their tracks.
I turned, then, back to coffee and the paper,
But, glancing up, saw to my surprise and wonder
The harbor filled an hour later with the pirouettes
Of a dozen figure skaters, with wobbling children
Bundled up to twice their size, and the slap
And dash of a pick-up hockey match. All of it,
The smallness of the figures, the galvanized,
Gray sky and snow that eddied in a devil’s dance
Low across the ice, recalled that in our latitude
Miracles are not at hand, virtue lies in moderation,
And one must learn to care for ordinary things:
The tufted sparrow, washed-out moon, or unlovely child.

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 2 Number 9, on page 55
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