Parachuting into Snow

This was done two nights before Christmas, twenty years ago, when I could not afford a better gift.

Parachuting into Snow

You have not seen this moon

from a thousand feet,

pulled to your face as a mirror.

The dazzle of stars

slung across cheekbone and canopy.

The distant sleeping village, light-muffled.

For once in a jump, there is

a perfect moment:

sliding on a pane of glass,

the magic of sheer altitude,

as the silver-chiseled mountain slopes

to ridge, bends to a field of snow.

Every cognac breath of fir

burns in a shock of

filaments, nerves that lap at ice

and go numb.

Clumsy fingers trace the outline of

the luminous night,

the noon of sleep and cold.

I would give you this moment:

the parachute cables and harness—

the sharp sliver of life

in suspense of a thousand feet—

the center of pale forms

that spin to a frozen orbit—

the precious second when motion

stops, seized by moonlight.

I would give you this all

but it quickly descends to the treetops.

Hackles of pine needle

rise to black-booted toes.

The white field swivels front

to back in a twisted current of air.

Shadow envelops the landscape

and raw earth flattens to scale.

And for once in a jump

there is no rough landing,

but a deep drift of snow.

To soften the hit and roll

a pocket of pure gold takes on

a human shape, canopy-covered,

and from the surface of powder

comes the slow reaching rise

of arms, helmet, and shoulders. Crawling

out of the deep snow I enter

black forest, armpit deep in cold,

and go to find the other

soldiers, to lock and load my gun,

and to save a memory of this:

to wrap your perfect moment

in paper, before the ice melts,

before the moon slips, before

daylight shatters the mountain

and intrudes on my only gift.

Merry Christmas Dad

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