Jennifer Saunders


Braking On Ice

Just two weeks before my father died
he’d been at home

resting uneasy in the bed
my brother moved to the living room.

I would come home late
from meeting friends by the lake,

the smoke of illegal bonfires
still in my hair but my father –

former Marine, retired cop –
said nothing,

just asked after my friends,
their summer jobs,

when classes would start again.
I saw the summer stretching on like that,

the bonfires,
sitting on the couch at midnight

drinking tea with my father
who could not sleep

and reading from the slow July pages
of the Hockey News,

nothing to report
but transfers and trades.

I thought his dying would outlast the season,
like autumn in the Midwest:

oak leaves changing color one at a time
until the ravine along the shore road blazed.

Instead it came
like a blizzard off the lake.

One morning,
after one of those midnight teas,

the right side of my father’s face fell
like snow sliding off a roof,

then, fast and heavy,
a stroke / a stroke /

a shunt / a coma:
a blizzard like that.

But I was a Chicago girl,
I knew storms ended,

so I kept his fingernails
neatly trimmed.

That was the year Pat LaFontaine
went to the Sabres

and my brother taught me to drive stick
in the hospital parking lot after visiting hours

the way my father had once taught me
to correct a skid in icy lots down by the lake

by turning into the skid –
that counterintuitive twist of the wheel

into the thing you fear.

JENNIFER SAUNDERS is a poet living in German-speaking Switzerland. Her chapbook Self-Portrait with Housewife was selected by Gail Wronsky as the winner of the 2017 Clockwise chapbook contest and will be published by Tebot Bach Press in Spring 2018. Her poems and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Dunes Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, Spillway, Stirring: A Literary Collection, ucity review, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from Pacific University and in the winters she teaches skating in a hockey school.