On Ice: Syllabics

Balancing sixty-

some years of flesh and bone, I

am out in the ice-

storm today. No pride:

I’ve learned to walk like a duck

breathing from my feet.

I’ve learned to relax

the will, to let the kind earth

root me in its love,

paying attention

at the same time to the gleam

of black ice ahead.

Author: Tom D'Evelyn

Tom D'Evelyn is a private editor and writing tutor in Cranston RI and, thanks to the web, across the US and in the UK. He can be reached at tom.develyn@comcast.net. D'Evelyn has a PhD in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley. Before retiring he held positions at The Christian Science Monitor, Harvard University Press, Boston University and Brown University. He ran a literary agency for ten years, publishing books by Leonard Nathan and Arthur Quinn, among others. Before moving to Portland OR he was managing editor at Single Island Press, Portsmouth NH. He blogs at http://tdevelyn.com and other sites.

5 thoughts on “On Ice: Syllabics”

  1. Wonderful poem. I had a similar experience yesterday, only I went down. twirling my cane in the pride of recovery from a two-month illness. After that, I used the cane more judiciously as I continued to walk. Yes, you have to meet earth’s love with a modicum of humility and attention. Thank you for this!


  2. Not bad, with my usual qualification, lines 5 & 6 especially. Ending doesn’t quite grab the poem in its fist as I think it would like to, however gently, or even sweetly, or even with frozen fingers. It needs the bladed edge of something; torque is part of it, but only part. The duck walk wants more than an exit, even final. The duck walk is final, too, and stately as a result. Nonetheless… Best, pv


  3. On reading On Ice: Syllabics several hours later the ending started to work for me, like one of those French confections which produce glancing moments of nothing (“nothingness” should be close to top of words disallowed). Each set of three lines is like a breath, the final set another breath. The “breathing” in line 6 is happy indeed, and in this reading the last three lines are the achievement of the poem. I realize paying attention is a discipline, but its unfreighted, forthright sense seems to me better in this instance. The final sentence but one of my previous post (before Nonetheless…) stands. — pv


  4. Happy new year Tom, from England. I note the 5- and 7-syllable lines but I’m more taken by the picture you present of walking carefully in the ice storm, with no pride getting in the way of safety, yet keeping an eye on the black ice ahead. It’s very much a poem for a certain time of life – and captures that state of mind exactly and economically, and of course metaphorically too. The imagery works very well indeed – I like it!
    I guess the choice of syllabics was important to you as the writer on the inside of the poem. Perhaps it mirrors the care needed in walking. So this works too – there’s a reason for the form that goes well beyond a bit of Marion Moore tribute. Generally the structure isn’t the thing that grabs most readers’ attention, but it sure matters to a careful writer like you.


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