Winner of the Steve Kowit Poetry Prize 2021

Snakes and Ladders

Our five-year-old son and I lean
over squares on the playing board

while our older son reads Twenty-Five Easy Steps
to Becoming Ancient Greek.

A virus is breathing over Earth
and you stand on a high stool in the garden,

place leaves and branches on top of our sukkah.
I move my piece                                                                                              

five spaces, just missing
the head of the snake, its thin tongue blue and forked.

Cracks between the wood floorboards
contain dust, darkness. And the shelves

hold books we love. What will happen to us?
Where will we be next year, many years from now?

On the table rests the box our son built, containing
small labelled secrets he crafted from clay.

The rain has returned, pulling
the night down like a curtain around our house.

I hold the die in my hand, its light weight shifting
with uncertainty, the cool soft corners offer hope.

You crouch, then step down carefully onto the mud,
your hands wet with blessings.

I look at the box: wood and painted gold.
The molded clay angels

sit on the lid, stretch
their clumsy wings towards each other.

Chopsticks, glued to each side,
serve as poles for the faithful to grasp and lift.

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