Partially glazed, the frozen river supports the two of them,
a youngish six-three Luke, a younger five-eleven Beth.
Ten years ago you might have called your lambs to you.
Now I watch you watch them at a distance. Calmly,
even when Luke leaps in the air with a yell, and breaks
through the ice to his knees. Calmly as his sister tries
to hole the surface, driving a cottonwood spear,
thick as my arm, into the nearly impenetrable pale glass.
My first instinct is to rescue Luke, who stands half a head
taller than his would-be rescuer. They’ll be fine, you say.
Even as Beth begins to pirouette barefooted and Luke
nose-plants in a mound of snow. They’ll be fine, you repeat,
this time placing a hand on my arm. And so the father I never
was shivers in fatherly fright. Imagines how many times
in the past twenty years They’ll be fine might have sung
softly to my ear. How many times before I believed it?

Dick Altman writes at 7,000 feet on New Mexico’s high desert. His work appears widely here and abroad. A winner in Santa Fe New Mexican’s annual literary competition, he has in progress two collections of some 100 published poems, Voices in the Heart of Stones and Telling the Broken Sky.