'We longed to go to Virginia Beach and put our toes in the tide'
Ruth Stone, who died at the age of 96 in 2011, was one of our finest poets. I'm especially taken with 'Lighter Than Air.' I love it when there's an instant at which something magical appears and for me it's those ladders reaching down toward the girls. The poem is from What Love Comes To: New and Selected Poems, from Copper Canyon Press.
LIGHTER THAN AIR
by Ruth Stone
The fat girl next door would give us a nickel
to walk to the old man's store
and get her an ice-cream cone,
vanilla, of course, the only flavor then.
On Powotan Avenue, Aunt Harriet and I would take
turns licking it all the way back.
It was hot that summer and we longed
to go to Virginia Beach and put our toes in the tide.
It rained every day and the James River swelled
up to our doorsteps.
Aunt Harriet and I wore tight rubber bathing caps
and long saggy bathing suits. How skinny we were.
She was nine and I was six. The lightning flashed
and we hid in the closet; the thunder crashed.
We had straight, bobbed hair and bangs.
Once a dirigible moved above the tops of the trees,
with little ladders dangling down, and we waved.
American Life in Poetry is made possible by the Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright © 2008 by Ruth Stone from What Love Comes To: New and Selected Poems, (Copper Canyon Press, 2012). Poem reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press. Introduction copyright © 2018 by the Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-06.