Norbert Krapf received the 1999 Lucille Medwick Memorial Award (for a poem on a humanitarian theme) from the Poetry Society of America for his poem "Fire and Ice. " Judge Toi Derricotte commented: "Mr. Krapf tells a haunting, personal story about a friendship between a black man and a white man that sheds light on the tragic wounds of a whole generation." The annual awards ceremony took place in the Celeste Bartos Forum of the New York Public Library on April 23, 1999. Barbara Guest, introduced by John Ashbery, gave the Frost Medal Lecture.




Dead of winter: snow, ice,
winds lashing the plains
of frozen northern Indiana.

The brick fieldhouse
of the Catholic college
that admitted men only roared
like an overheated furnace.

Poles, Irish, and Italians
from the cities around
the Great Lakes, a few
Germans from the hills
to the south along the Ohio,
we stretched our vocal cords
to the snapping point as
our team scratched, slipped,
rallied and finally failed
against Lutheran archrivals.

When we entered the igloo
of our freshman dorm
someone, incensed, found
rays of light escaping
into the hall from beneath
Leland Richard's door.

Leland was a black intellectual
from Cleveland who had dared
to stay home and not support
the holy communal cause.

Maybe he was reading a book,
writing a letter to his family
or just wanted to be alone.
Maybe he was thinking about
what to do with his life.

Someone knocked on the door.
No answer. Someone pounded.
Still no answer. "Stayed
in his room during the game!"
echoed down the hall. Someone
brought a can of lighter
fluid and squirted it under
the door. Someone else struck
and flipped a match. Flame
zigzagged under the door that
bitterly cold night as someone
chanted "Spear chucker!"

I stood there watching,
listening from a distance
while my friend sat alone
trapped between fire and ice.
I could not find whatever
words should have come out.

Leland never once mentioned
that night when we later sat
in the cafeteria discussing
literature and foreign films.
I could never bring myself
to ask how it felt to watch
flame shoot beneath his door
and hear the chant from beyond.

Late that spring after green
flames lit brown grass around
the pond in front of the chapel
with postcard twin towers,
Leland entered a seminary.
I never heard from him again.
Now I have learned he is dead.


Copyright 1999 by Norbert Krapf