The whole day before Palm sunday we watched
snow blow sideways against the windows
of our Massachusetts farmhouse,
needles so sharp they pierced
your cheeks if you went out
bundled to the ears and wool-capped.
Then dawn, dazzling under clear sky.
Eight feet of cold powder
covered the quarter-mile to the street
where Dad had parked our car before the storm.
Church stood another seven miles away.
Sitting now in a counselor’s office,
childhood and religion left behind for thirty years,
I keep remembering the way we four girls
left our flowered Easter dresses in the closet,
pulled on wool pants under skirts,
laced up boots, zipped heavy jackets
and floundered out to make a path into the drifts.
Shovels failed. One last freeze before sunrise
had hardened a crust too thick to dig,
too thin to walk on. In the apple orchard
ice-painted branches glistened black.
Which one of us discovered how
to get from house to car I can’t recall.
The secret was to use the principle of physics
that makes things float, the first lesson in swimming
when we learned to put our faces down, reach out arms and legs.
That Palm Sunday when we sank chest deep in cold,
we floundered up again to spread ourselves
across the unmarked frozen surface.
We almost swam our way to church
with clumsy, careful breast strokes we had taught ourselves.
Over the Horizon
Nine. And-a-half. I stand
under the white pine behind our house.
Check around. No one
watching. Grab the bottom branch
sticky with pitch, pull up.
Anchor one sneekered foot on top of the limb
against the scarred trunk,
draw the other up to stand firm,
to keep going. Who can tell how far?
Still time. Mama’s inside
cooking supper. Still time
before I have to stand
with my sisiter at the soapy sink of dishes
washing and drying
while we fight. I’m up
branch after branch. Past
full of leaves and the bottom edge
of black shingles. Up into sap-
scented air, needles’ soft prickle
in my palms. Up.
Past the highest point I’ve ever been,
moving even after
my sister suddenly yells, “Stop!”
far below. Tattletale sister, I
barely slow when the tapered trunk
taking my slight frame
with it. Too late for anyone
to make me quit now. I climb
until at last I can see over the shingled ridge
the front yard marigolds, the line
of my friends’ rooftops
along our narrow street
all the way to an unbroken
dome of cottony sky.
Sister still yells and I stand on a branch
so thin it bends
under my feet. I ride
the wind. I hang on
long enough to get a good look–
new treetops, chimneys, the shiny
tops of cars on the big road outside our neighborhood.
Long enough to glimpse
the whole world, all
the places I haven’t been yet
until Mama’s clear voice
pierces the haze of green I’ve come through,
until her threat brings me down.
Louise Barden is the author of the chapbook Tea Leaves. Her poetry has appeared in Chattahoochie Review, Greensboro Review, Timberline and others. After 40 years in North Carolina, she is now making Corvallis, Oregon, her home.