The boy remembered the hay ride
Down the center of town.
He and his mother and dad
Ran to catch on to the wagon,
like being chased.
His dad tossed him on top.
Then his parents hooked their feet,
Jumped on as if hopping a train.
“You all right?”
His dad shouted down at him,
Against the wind.
The boy nodded and laid in the rank smell
Of recently cut hay,
The snow sprinkling like salt
On his hood and blanket,
The clop, clop of the horses’ hooves,
Like hammering nails,
The city lights above him,
A thousand scary moons.

Snow drifted ten feet high,
Circled their granite driveway.
No one was home.
The boy’s older cousin came over,
Tied a six foot rope
To the boy’s sled on one end
And the other to the bumper
Of his cousin’s new red Ford pickup.
His cousin pulled him around the drive,
Faster and faster,
One, two, three times,
Spun his sled out and back in,
Like a yoyo,
His cousin’s snow chains banged,
Dug into the snow-covered granite,
Threw stones up in the boy’s face
Like a pea shooter,
Cold stinging, watering his eyes,
The thrill beating in his heart
Like a high school bass drum,
Exciting, dangerous.
The last time around,
The final curve,
His cousin gunned the engine.
The boy skidded around
Like a boomerang,
Flew off his sled
Into a ten foot snowdrift
That saved him.

The swimming hole,
A secret place carved
in the creek just for them,
Water the color of the split pea soup
The boy’s mother made twice a month,
A flat, round rock in the center
That the three of them swam to,
Shaped like a tractor tire,
Barely large enough
To hold all of them at once.
They swam through six feet of stagnant water
Every rainless afternoon,
Without a life guard,
Without a grown up,
Three boys alone,
The breeze and the sun dried their skin.
Until the afternoon
The boy stood up,
Lost his balance,
Tipped like a drunk into the water,
Hit something hard below.
He sank, came up, gagged,
Sank, came up, gasped.
He heard his friends cry,
“Grab the rock,
Grab on.”
But he let go inside
Until he felt himself rise
Out of the creek
In the arms of a passing stranger.

He remembered being told to
Hit the ground when the mortars fell,
Drop like a sack of grain,
To burrow in,
hope for the best,
Whether on patrol
Or walking the company street.
But he ran for the nearest bunker, anyway,
Like everyone else.
The mortars whistled
Above his head as he ran,
Like someone calling him
From the playground
At recess.
As he neared the bunker,
The mortars continued to whistle
Until one caught, somehow,
Turned end over end,
Rattled like a cough in the sky.
Just before he dove for the bunker,
A perfect hit in the doorway
Killed all fourteen boys inside.

Rick Christman is the author of two books: Falling in Love at the End of the World, and Searching for Mozart.