The Skaters

James Lasdun

Their town’s the quaint one:
the board won’t let it sprawl
more than a half-mile from the green’s
little pool-table of grass and shiny tulips
where Santa lands in winter and the teens
play hackysack all summer. There’s no mall,

no motel either,
which is just what they want;
they voted for the good life there;
they can afford it: no fast-food chain, no sixplex,
they’ll quietly brag; no trailer park, no air-
or groundwater-fouling autoshop or plant . . .

You’ll find all that here
in the next town along.
You’ll know you’ve reached us when you pass
a smooth vast meadow with a thousand white pipes
curved down like candycane, venting the gas
from their buried garbage. Then all the usual wrong

doable by men
to a stubborn landscape,
to settle it and make it pay,
goes reeling by; the usual aching and craving
risen on blasted granite and raw clay.
They point their finger and they call it rape,

and maybe they’re right,
though from some viewpoints, folks
might think them hypocritical,
like how they bring their kids to the new Kiwanis
ice-rink – the kids all slim and tall
from too little candy (one of our little jokes) –

every damn weekend.
Not that they’re not welcome –
anyone can come here that wants:
here’s failure without the allure, here’s the mirage
gone from marriage; beer guts slung over pants,
butts like boulders in spandex, hard mouths home

on weekend parole;
here the abused and creased,
the maimed-in-spirit, the tainted
(what by no one remembers or cares any more)
totter out on their blades to get reacquainted
with sheer effortless rapture, or at least

the idea of it:
that frictionless surface
gets scratched and bleared up before long,
then turns to a thick, grey, gravelly slurry
which, we have to admit, is easier-going,
maybe because it reminds us of us,

though for a moment,
the page of ice still bare,
we’re just like them again: all flow,
our stumblings still not written, the world so primed
we’re back believing where we want to go
we’ll get to just by wishing ourselves there.