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The Sled

By Ashley Seitz Kramer

My grandfather told me the story only once, and he looked down at his shoes, and I knew that his story was my story, too, long before I ever heard it, before I knew he was a child with a sled and that an older friend from down the street could make him do anything. My grandfather grinds his teeth flat. My grandfather swallows nails. My grandfather climbs up and up a rickety ladder for sixty years and he always comes back down, though a man can really lose his footing sometimes.

It is 1934. Boys believe someone just invented snow and every awful memory is so close to being a good one. His friend dares him down the hill and my grandfather hesitates, says no. His friend offers to go first and screams with glee on his way down, an echo for every Are you chicken? Because my grandfather lives, I know how close he is to death when he unwillingly takes the dare and hits the tree, when the crash splits him in two at the groin, when the impact lodges a seven-inch splinter in his rectum. My grandfather lives but not before he died a little. He cannot sit for months; he does not want to eat; his body stinks from infection. He can hardly stand himself and what hes done. Imagine a boy with a tree inside him.

As I write this, his tattoos are fading and his hair is thinning and all I can think about is seeing the sled, which is red and arresting like his blood in the snow, a darkened lake deepening around him, a fountain from the holy book of childhood half a chapter long.

A man can spend his whole life reading it.

Ashley Seitz Kramer is in the low-residency MFA program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.  Her poems have appeared in Wicked Alice, The Gihon River Review, Dogwood, and The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review. She was a finalist for the 2005 Joy Harjo Poetry Award and the 2005 Sow’s Ear Poetry Award. She lives in Athens with her husband and her green-eyed cat.  She teaches courses at Ohio University, works part-time as a writer/editor, and leads a poetry workshop for adults recovering from mental illness.

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photo by Dinty W. Moore