The ancient ritual is unknown to all but a chosen few,
the strong, the bold, and the exceedingly brave
who tempt fate upon the frozen wastes
where death awaits
in a final, terrible, dead-frozen grave.
Light-footed they shuffle, over the thinnest ice of fall
reflecting morning skies and pastel moonlike mirrors.
The salmon-leaps of dawn’s first blush
disguise the depths
beyond the fragile surface of their mortal fears.
In spring they worry over ice three feet thick,
spongy-black and water soaked, a floating moor
appearing to disintegrate at dusk
when lurking shadows
threatens chasms at every step they make toward shore.
In the hard of winter they trudge like buffalo,
heavy-shouldered, snorting frost-clouds to the rhythm of the cold.
Hooved against the snow
they walk heavy,
blind to fear, on water so diamond-hard it makes them bold.
Above imagined schools of fish they remember here
they stop and muscle auger-barreled holes rifle-straight
with blades honed razor sharp
to the depths below,
then gravely they bait and set their lines and patient, wait…
For minimal messages from bobber, rod-tip, ringing bells
but silence dulls their watchful senses while dreams intrude
of comforts lost and longed for,
images to embrace,
warm against the cross-winds of this frozen, chosen, solitude.
Until, hollow, distant, ominous echoes awaken them,
heavy-lidded, to a deep-throated rumble from a distant place
and primal instinct quickens blood,
stands hair on end,
and a sense of dread engorges veins and makes their pulses race.
Dead still, they listen close with breeze-cocked ears,
forest creatures, nostrils flared, poised for desperate flight
from fire or storm or whirling wind,
biting jaws, nightmare fright,
from fearsome forces that shatter trees and bring a sudden night.
Louder, deeper still, the monster roars, coming closer
and the splitting ice screams their eyes white with wonder
as open cracks beneath their feet explode like sudden thunder.
Arms stretched outright,
hearts clenched like fists,
breath sucked out by fright,
in the momentary terror of this trance
they perform an ancient rite:
To protect themselves against the chance
of black frozen death beneath their feet
on strings of fear