Saturday, 18 December 2010

The Ice River

That winter the bitter Thames froze over,
Our little Elizabeth could not endure
The cold. Ice seized the muscled river
So tight of grip, turned flow to deep-set stone,
The crammed city overran its banks: fair
And market jostled to the new-laid causeway,
Vying for land too perishable to rent or own.

Mornings I’d loiter there - landlocked boatman
Whose craft’s marooned ashore, cracking between
The frosty contractions. With current clenched
And stilled, my trade ran dry as a victualler’s
In Eden. Pinched fishermen and portly
Merchants alike would curse the chill, and pray
For swift reversal of this ‘miracle’.

A chained bear, prodded from his winter sleep,
Would stagger up in a parody of dance
Utterly morose and grudging; yet the traders
Would goad him on, roaring, as they haggled
And bartered, children between the stalls
Raising snowmen, conducting ephemeral wars.

There persisted everywhere such levity,
And carnival abandon, I could only
Attribute it to this: their stark want
Of time, pitched on slipshod ice, weighing
The imminence of certain loss with this
Chance turn of grace – as all do, God knows.

But their prospering was my penury;
My wife and infants bore the unhappy toll.
Our little borrowing could not outlast
The snow: her swaddling proved her cerement.
On the ninth day, hoisted from its winter sleep,
A gross, red, apoplectic sun swelled up
Over the spires and frost-sheened rooves of London.
None spoke: all moved in accordance with this sign,
And to hear – like eerie crow-song –
The faint creaks and fissures of the shifting ice.

Some dismantled the stalls and shelters
So lately improvised; some scrambled back and forth
Safeguarding wares. Chaos overtook them once again: fear.

Shuffling to my thawing skiff, thanking God
For His infinite mercy, I watched them
Butcher the unruly bear for coats, gloves,
Dogs’-meat. And in the ruinous sun
The snowmen, suddenly old: how they shrivel,
And hunch over, weeping until they are gone.


  I thought it was high time I posted a poem of my own. This fairly old one seemed to be timely in terms of the current weather as well as linking to the previous post about 'The Road' - the poem is also concerned with "the frailty of all things" (although obviously I make no comparison with Cormac MaCarthy's book in terms of literary quality).

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