By Henrietta Goodman
Feature image: Mount Monadnock, probably 1911/1914 by Abbott Handerson Thayer
The first one is half a couple, young, their daughter
four or five in pink snow pants and a pink flowered
coat. They’re stopped at the top of the last long run,
skis wedged sideways. She’s made it this far, and now
she’s wailing I can’t do it I can’t do it I don’t want to—
Almost everyone pauses before this sheer slope
gleaming in late-afternoon sun, this almost-vertical
descent that someone named Paradise. She’s sobbing
I can’t do it and her father says What do you need?
Do you need some fish? Do you need some T. Swift?
He reaches for his phone and “Shake It Off” starts playing,
and he barks like a seal and flaps his arms and stomps
his skis a little like flippers, and she holds out
her gloved hand and he puts Goldfish crackers in it,
tosses a few and catches them in his mouth, and they
start down Paradise, her skis in a careful pizza,
her father telling her when to turn. The next one
is older, bearded, his daughter older too, high school
or college, hard to tell through helmet and goggles—
she’s silent as he coaches: drop your shoulder, now
shift your hips, now turn, drop your shoulder.
I’m trying to translate his advice into something
my own body could do—toes curled in my boots,
skis crossed at the tips, poles flailing behind me
and sticking in snow as I skid toward the trees.
She’s making long slow turns; he’s patient, saying
over and over good girl in a way that means she’s
as frightened as I am and her goodness is his world
and is, to him, absolute. She doesn’t look at him—
she’s watching her skis as they glide back and forth
through Paradise, watching herself not falling.
Henrietta Goodman is the author of three books of poetry: All That Held Us, a sonnet-sequence published by BkMk Press in 2018 as winner of the John Ciardi Prize; Hungry Moon, published by Colorado State University in 2013; and Take What You Want, which won the Beatrice Hawley Award from Alice James Books and was published in 2007. She teaches at the University of Montana and at Texas Tech University and lives in Missoula, Montana.
Feature image: Corcoran Collection (Museum Purchase, Anna E. Clark Fund). Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington.