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Poem-a-Day

The Ascent

THE ASCENT

Aside from the slides and swings and jungle gym
On our elementary school playground there was
A kind of ramp slanted at a forty-five degree angle,
Reaching nearly to the branches, so that if any of us
Had ever reached the top we might have regretted it.
The idea was to run up it so fast you didn’t have a chance
To slide back down, but I never saw anyone make it
All the way up without clinging to the sides and even then
It was only a tentative ascent and didn’t seem to count.
It was neither glass nor metal but something in between,
Reflective but in a warped way, like the back of a spoon.
When I think of it standing on the edge of the playground,
So far from the school we couldn’t hear the teachers
Call us, I wonder if we were meant to be climbing it at all.
I always felt threatened by it, even when I was playing
Elsewhere. It was unwaveringly honest, reflecting
The trees whether they were bare or leaved, reflecting
The sky whether it was clear or gray, still and falling
Stars at night, the moon in all its phases, planes, satellites,
All the while remembering nothing. It stood there
Through days nothing happened, and through days
Something did: the day Rebecca was killed crossing
The road, the day we let the balloon go for peace
In Bosnia, the day a bus backed over a boy and Mr.
Ludewig, who those of us who’d had him could attest
Was not in any way remarkable, found within himself
A strength he hadn’t known he had and lifted it
Off the boy’s torso. Through all of this that thing,
Which must have a name, reflected whatever passed
Over it, including our faces. I wonder now whether
It waited for us to remember it at recess and gather
At its base to take turns clambering up its steepness,
Providing us no purchase so as to feel youth itself
Struggle and fail and slide down the long slope of it,
Its only memory the fog of our breath on its face.
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