Listen to James Longenbach read this poem.
He wouldn't have left much later than 3:00,
Not with the sun disappearing behind the mountain,
December, shortest days of the year.
At its deepest, the lake is twenty feet.
In summer he rowed, in winter he walked.
That day he started across snow-covered ice on his skis.
If the cracking had started immediately
He would have turned back.
Whether he saw the open water north of the island—who knows?
By 5:25, when finally he slipped from the edge,
A hundred of us were watching from shore.
Immediately the gossip began.
Why did a man who'd lived on the island all his life,
Who knew enough to unfasten his skis,
Cross ice no more than forty-eight hours old?
If the wind hadn't kicked up,
If anybody could have thrown that far,
If there'd been no ice, if there'd been enough—
All-seeing stars that never sink beneath the northern pole,
Whose orbits embrace heaven, circling the earth,
My friend the poet lived on an island.
He built a cabin, planted beans. More than anything
He liked to visit other islands.
When the ice collapsed he drowned.
Fire shall burn, earth grow,
Water shall wear a covering,
Locking up the sprouts of the earth.
James Longenbach's most recent collection of poems is The Iron Key. Graywolf will publish a new prose book, The Virtues of Poetry, next year.
For Slate's poetry submission guidelines, click spacerhereyeshyperlinkPoetry SubmissionsSlate reads new poems from Oct. 1 to April 30. Manuscripts sent between May 1 and Sept. 30 will not be considered.To submit poems: Send, as a single attached document, up to three poems of no more than 50 lines each to email@example.com. Use the poet's name for the subject line of the e-mail and for the title of the attachment. We prefer Word documents (.doc or .docx) to PDFs.Please include a brief, professional cover letter, including publication history, in the body of your email. Please limit submissions to one per poet per annual reading period. Simultaneous submissions are OK. Slate no longer accepts poetry submissions by mail. The email address firstname.lastname@example.org is for poetry submissions only (or to notify editors of acceptance elsewhere of a poem under consideration at Slate). Other inquiries, etc., will not be addressed.10000false220061444537PMWednesdayJanJanuary161/4/2006 9:45:37 PM63271989937000000020061444537PMWednesdayJanJanuary161/4/2006 9:45:37 PM632719899370000000.Clickhere to visit Robert Pinsky's Favorite Poem Project site.Click here for an archive of "Poet's Choice" columns from the Washington Post.