Ski Lift

Susan Fromberg Schaeffer

I thought all I felt was annoyance, not even anger,
So many plans to change, we were in the wrong country,
On the other side of an ocean, words get changed
Coming through water, I thought, don’t tell me this,
I don’t want to hear it, I thought it’s wrong
To tell me my father died while I’m standing
Here naked and wet, wrapped in a towel, my hair wet,
You don’t talk to a daughter about her father
While she’s naked and wet, it isn’t proper,
Don’t you have any sense, I remember giving my mother
Black net stockings, she was always
So proud of her legs, even after the stove burned them,
I have her legs, and he said, Next you’ll be standing
On street corners holding a red bag, I always wondered
Why a red bag, she gave them back to me and I wore them
Everywhere, she never wore them, and then everyone around me
Was crying, and it was like being in a wood where the trees,
Swayed by wind, wept and wept, while I stood like a stick,
Motionless, dry, and it took me some time to understand
I was the wind and the branches in this wood
Would be lashing forever, I could walk into this wood whenever
I pleased, but the weather would never change here,
And today I remember everything, the colour of the towel,
Beige, the colour of the dust of the road in the summer
In front of our house, the colour of the dust that settles
All winter as the wood stove burns, it burns up a whole wood,
But it won’t burn up this one, you might as well
Have been the hunter who comes with a club
And bludgeons baby seals, their bodies,
Were all around me as you talked, it’s not worth being
The messenger, is it, someone had to do it, and all I thought was,
There are six people coming to dinner and my hair is still
Wet, why make up a story like this, my father fell
From a ski lift. In Alaska, in the summer, fell through the air
And was killed, a man who wouldn’t stand on a kitchen stool
But held it for my mother who searched the high shelves,
What kind of craziness is this, what kind of joke, Daddy,
This isn’t funny, I see you all those years, sitting in your
Black naugahyde chair in the green living-room, in that cold
Room, the thermometer turned down, put on a sweater if
You’re cold, I’m cold now, refusing to speak,
The silent treatment, behind your newspaper, for years
I couldn’t read a newspaper,
I lost the world, I didn’t mind, I had you. Now what?
The silent treatment again? What have I done now? How long
Will this one last? When will you speak again? I find myself
Thinking, he missed this month, but that’s all right,
Nothing much happened, this is the best I can do when I try
To get it through my head, that you’re gone.

I wear your watch, it’s like having your hand on my wrist,
I can’t take it off, it announces each day, one more
To the first anniversary of your death, August 13th,
The thirteenth, the unlucky day,
You would say, Yeah, I arranged it that way, I should die
On the fourteenth, when I could make an impression?
It’s an ugly watch, a grey Timex, the colour of steam
On the mirror of the bathroom when my husband told me,
He knocked at the door, he said open the door, there was no
Hint of annoyance, just insistence, I knew something
Had happened, Open the door, but not this,
He said an accident, and I thought,
Oh, in the car, you were such a dreadful driver,
But it wasn’t the car, it was you, falling through air,
In Alaska, a place I don’t believe in anyway, falling
Through air! You who feared planes, heights, who grew
Out of the ground
With each step, I never saw anyone so rooted in earth,
So pressed down upon it, gravity thickened around you,
It’s amazing what some people will say,
Someone said: It’s really a beautiful death, isn’t it,
Falling out of the sky like Icarus; at least he fell
Into water, at least he had wings, at least he flew
Before he fell, for an instant he was like an angel,
Was an angel, there are so many things to be afraid of,
But who would have thought of this, if they had locked me
In a room for days and made me guess, I’d still be there:
Heart attack, stroke, car, earthquake, but a ski lift,
In summer, in Alaska, my mother watching you fall,
Now how are we going to scour those eyes? Those blue eyes,
Colour of the sky in Alaska, they pulled her free
Or she would have gone, too, she never left anyone alone,
She still hasn’t, I’m used to watching paper fall,
Twisting in the air, turning this way and that, settling
Without sound, but you, oh weighty presence,
Won’t you change your mind, stubborn thing, do it over,
Stop bleeding, we are children for ever, aren’t we?
At the funeral, I looked into the box, and there you were,
Wake up, it’s time to get up, last call, last chance, just
Sit up, but you didn’t sit up, I never
Saw skin that colour, browned but greenish, brownish-yellow,
I never saw your face relaxed like that, even the furrows
Between your eyes, even the scowl was gone, your nose
Was larger, I’ve played with dolls, I’ve put them in boxes,
You don’t put people in boxes and close them.

At the cemetery, the rabbi said something, I sat
In the second row, I was afraid to sit too close,
I was afraid to look up at the box, it was shiny,
It swayed there suspended from poles, hung in the air,
Swayed like a cradle. I thought, now they’ll bury you,
But they didn’t lower the box, it stayed there swaying,
The sun kept hitting it, I thought, it’s hot in there,
We drove away in the long black car, it felt like shame,
It felt like illness, at the last instant, I looked back,
Never look back, the box was swaying alone in the field,
As if you were in a bed in that field, alone there
And no one to put you to bed, no one to cover you,
The box swaying, as if you were still falling,
Alone, and no one to say good night, the sounds
Of the world still coming to you,
The sounds of our leaving, our tires on the gravel
And you forced to listen, Don’t leave me here,
I thought you were saying it but I’ve been saying
It ever since, Don’t leave me here, don’t leave
Me here alone, how did I know you were safe beneath
Your blanket of earth, your burrow, what if
Someone came for your body, took it away, how do I
Know where you are?

When I stood in front of the coffin I realised
I expected to disappear, vanish, no puff of smoke,
No snaps of the fingers, but if you were gone,
I was too, would have to go, as if our existences
Were contingent, I never thought you would die
Before me, how much of this did I know
Standing in that bathroom, in my towel, naked and wet,
I remember looking at you through a crack in the door,
Naked and wet, I must have been five or six,
Probably I knew all of it, no one ever clung
To routines the way I did, my fingers
Tight around their throats, no vines ever dug in
Harder than I did, I walked on the heath every day
I had left, past the memorial benches,
He so loved the Heath, I watched the kite fliers,
The thwack thwack thwack of the kites against the sky,
The kites that lost their grip and came down and hit
Hard enough to split a skull but didn’t shatter,
Didn’t shatter the earth either, left no mark,
Boneless things, and then I was up in the air again,
Over the ocean, flying home. Where was home now?

Who will I talk to now? Who is left in the world
Who looks like me?

All the photos of your trip are full of shadows.
I framed one. The shadow of a small plane’s wing
Lies behind you; you are looking up through a black arch.
In another, gold light eats at you, glare from a window
Dissolves you. In another, you are small, as if photographed
From a plane leaving you behind. I know if you had come back
Safe, I wouldn’t have looked twice, the shadows, the black
Door, you standing there, small, alone, I can almost see
You waving, I wouldn’t have thought twice, now they predict,
Tell a story, prophesy the future, if we could have known;
One way or another the future is always dark, undeveloped,
Who would have thought it would be like this,
But there’s plenty of time to think about it now, all the time
Left in the world, now you are immortal in my mind
But that’s no comfort, I’m not solid, I might as well
Be painted on glass,
I remember staying home with you
Listening to the radio and you let me stay up all night,
That’s what you said, and I believed it, I was too young
To tell time, later I knew you’d lied about the hour,
But we stay someone’s child for ever,
And you could change time, stop it, add to it,
Turn it forward, back, it was your property, you owned it
Like this watch. Come back, but you won’t,
I know it, not even in dreams. No one ever does,
No curtain calls for this family’s stubborn mules.
Gone is gone. I don’t believe it but I will.
So people say.