The Dutch Roll

by Joseph Millar

My father skates on ahead of me,
hands deep in his greatcoat pockets,
brown fedora jammed low.
He’s showing me the Dutch Roll,
how to move down the ice for long distances
as they do in the Land of the Silver Skates
shifting one’s weight from foot to foot
without thrusting the legs.
I’m proud of the way I can skate,
way better than my brothers.
We’re headed for the covered bridge
two miles downstream to the east
and I watch his back. The fur
collar doesn’t cover his ears
but he never seems to get cold.
French Creek will not freeze like this
for the rest of the winter we live here,
and tomorrow he’ll start drinking again.
Willow branches thin as whips
hang down from the frozen banks,
blackberry canes and pieces of bark
encased in the ice’s dark rind.
I smell the wool of my gray muffler,
my eyes are starting to sting. Every
so often the ice booms and cracks
like a rifle going off in a vault
and I hear my own blades
scrape and cut deep on the long thrust
pushing away, having abandoned
the rolling motion because I’m trying now
to catch up. My feet ache from the cold.
I don’t want to chicken out and quit.
I don’t know how the Dutch kids do it.
The woods are quiet and full of wind
and I think: some things sound better
in books than when you actually do them.
Maybe my father comes back for me,
and we turn and skate back upstream together
past the big rocks crusted with snow,
the ice so thick here I can’t see through it.

Last updated March 20, 2023