Three Verses for the Snow Hill

IT was the sort of January for which New England is famous. Heavy snows had closed down the schools, not once, but twice in one week. On the next clear day, the snowplows arrived early to clear the paths and the teachers' parking lot. They packed all the snow into a great hill beside the playground fence, 20 feet high at its peak. That morning the principal handed down a rule to the teachers who passed it on to their students.

Can you guess what it was? ``Don't climb on the snow hill! It's too tall and dangerous!'' Exactly - how did you know? What do you suppose the chances are that this kept the young kids away from the snow mountain? Correct again - no chance whatsoever.

My studio at this school was at the back of the building, looking down on the playground. I wrote this poem as a portrait of the snow hill, showing it at three different times of the day: early morning, when the students should all be in class; midday; at recess; and late, after school had let out for the day.

I read this poem at my closing school assembly. Judging from the laughter, the students liked this one best. They mobbed around me when it was over, asking: ``Was it true?'' and ``Which teacher climbed the hill?'' Of course, I wouldn't say a word.

The truth of the poem can be discovered inside each reader. If a poem is supposed to stretch your imagination, an ``answer'' would stop imagination dead in its tracks. But I was pleased to see my kids examining all their teachers carefully, realizing that inside every adult there is a well-preserved 10-year-old as well.

Three Verses for the Snow Hill 1.Legs stretching, wary of any slip. Wiry muscles tensed, an Everest at every step, the boy reaches the peak of the hill that the snowplow built beside the playground. Alone, he stares out - the white wind-marked field, so empty, so unreal, it could be the surface of the moon. The morning glare catches in the tiny peaks and blue shadows streak. The boy stands so still, so long - I was going to say: ``One small step for a kid; one giant step for kid-kind.'' But suddenly, watching the sun-silver flare in the snow and feeling the quiet of the boy's stare - I realize I don't know at all what he is seeing there.

2.At lunch hour, the back doors burst open. Here they come - yellow, green, metallic blue, a tide of wool hats and snowsuits onto the frosted playground - shrill-voiced, taunting, laughing, challenging everyone in sight to play King of the Hill. They scramble up and tumble down the snowy slope, arms flailing, legs pumping - ``Watch it! Gotcha! No you don't! Here I come! Down you go!'' until only one figure in a blue ski jacket is standing King. No, Queen! A girl! The boys are furious. Up again they charge, warring on the icy peak, Belly-flops or bottoms-ups, one by one they skid down, But the girl in blue still holds her ground. The laughter and dares bounce off the school walls, slip through my office window.

3.Half-past-four. While the car warms up and the windshield defrosts, one teacher approaches the snow hill, glances backward - no one to see or hear - then with a half-leap, wobbly slide, balance, and a one-two-three quick stride, the teacher reaches the top of the hill, one arm raised, a silent cheer, turns slowly and looks back on - not just the brick school wall - but twenty-five years.

This page is part of a series printed on the first Wednesday of every month

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