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Layered in Winter
      Washington Park, Milwaukee, WI
by Mary Jo Balistreri

Muffled in mittens, snowsuits and scarfs,
skates tied and flung over shoulders, we headed
for the neighborhood rink‐smoke, pine, ozone-fresh air.

By the time the swirling smell of hot chocolate and music
from the loud speaker reached us, we were belting out
Wake Up Little Susie right along with the Everly Brothers.

Snippets of chatter and laughter swallowed our voices
as we elbowed our way through the crowd of kids
going to, coming from the warming house. The potbelly stove
tossed a blast of heat at the cold we carried.

On long narrow benches, we squeezed together, bodies bent
nearly double. As we peeled off boots and tightened laces,
our minds were already dashes of sliver speeding across ice.

We'd play "crack the whip" or "I send," show off, skate
backwards, or spin one-legged arabesques, ice chips and crusts
of snow flying when we missed and slid on our bottoms.

Risk was everything.

As we grew older, Washington Park was a fever‐
Friday night dates, moonlight and lanterns, Skaters Waltz,
Chances Are, and Don't forbid me.
It was holding hands, arms around each other,
that first trembling kiss.

Years later, Elvis is wood smoke, and wet wool,
a cold sweep of winter that unlatches
memory's trunk.

Lost parts of us glide near, and we reclaim
silver blades under stars, images of runes etched
on ice, our first love raised from the dead,
the kiss ever moist on our lips.

We were the air, and everything,
everything was possible.

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