Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature

Friday, April 18, 2014

"Young Woman on Old Skates," by Hans Ostrom

So she nibbled at the
right-hand bit, and did not
venture to go near the house til she had
brought herself down to nine inches high.


--Alice in Wonderland


This late April day spends its last light
on a river of milky windshields
in aggravated suburban traffic.
Where did I come from that I alone,
walking, should witness this young woman
in her absurd determination? Thirteen, perhaps,

high-waisted in blue-jeans, she stands
uneasily on silver skates--bony and awkward,
a victim of legs like a young giraffe.
A hundred lavender blossoms
cover the concrete driveway where she stands;
they accumulate over the inevitable oilstain
left by a wound in the belly of her father's Ford.

Just as I walk past she finally decides
to try the skates. Now I see one hand
clutches a bunch of the fallen blossoms.
They puff out from her fist like a handkerchief.
Stiff-kneed, she scrapes forward and bends--to
do what?--to gather more blossoms.
I won't stop and embarrass us. I look back
to see several petals fall from her grasp;
her skates choose this moment to mutiny.
Her knees knock together, she surrenders
and falls carefully forward. For an instant,

her face says, "My body makes no sense at all."
Her ritual makes no sense at all.”
Her blue sweater hikes up her back; the wind roughs up her hair
like an obnoxious brother; no doubt Daddy will be
wheeling in at five-thirty-sharp to conquer
the driveway. Grimly she begins her ascent to equilibrium,
grabbing two fist-fulls of flowers.
From almost a block away I can hear her skates scrape and sing.



hans ostrom, 1977/2014
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