Public Skating Christmas Day

An old man in plaid bedroom slippers,
weighted wool pants, steps on the ice.
Four young boys race to him,
tuck their arms in his,
escort him to center ice.
They lean into him, and,
from a small fluorescent bag
his arthritic fingers
place a candy in the palm of each boy.
He has come from an old country;
an ocean, a continent, a World War away.
But here, in this arena,
jackets open, IPod cords dangling from their pockets,
these boys receive the stories embedded
in the creases of his face;
the measure of grain winnowed
in the country of his youth, enemy boots
marching on cobblestone streets,
his stomach rumbling as he took cover
in a collapsing barn. The rasp of freedom.
Each word pulls them closer.
This gift the old man shares,
what they will remember the rest of their lives;
these boys, this gift.

~ Joan Shillington

Joan Shillington was born and raised in Edmonton and moved with her husband and children to Calgary in 1985. She has been published in Freefall, Prairie Journal, University of Calgary Anthology Writing the Terrain, Room of One’s Own. In the fall of 2008, Revolutions (Leaf Press) a book of poetry about the last Tsar of Russia and his family was released.

“‘Public Skating Christmas Day’ was inspired by an incident witnessed skating with my grandson during the holiday season a few years ago. I witnessed an old man and his young (presumably) grandsons as they surrounded him and he handed out candies, wearing bedroom slippers. ‘A Bush Pilot Executes His Last Shutdown’ is about my father, one of the original bush pilots of Alberta.”

Editor’s note: This poem is from Home and Away – a sequel to the bestselling Writing the Land (2007). Look for one poet to be featured each day as Alberta poets ponder the question “what is home?” and explore our complex relationship with working on, living with, exploiting and protecting our land and our home. For more information about the project, click here.

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