A ritual sweeping of the ice, pine needles and frost
brushed like glitter from jade lake-skin.
The water’s shell measured and paced,
marked in strips with spears –
split by horse drawn saws.
Walls of air and cloudy roof aside, this is a factory.
Only nature can forge this water-jewel,
its furnace on the bottom of the lake,
or in some magic gap between water and air.
Silver ore turned out by winter, devil smooth.
Men saw slabs of river, dog blocks out of water
and set them to sea downhill on tracks. An ice railway.
Carriages with no passengers but trapped air
clink and jostle, bleat like startled livestock.
Reared, farmed, fattened;
destined for gradual slaughter in a London ice box.
I wrote this poem back in 2013 as part of a residency I undertook at the London Canal Museum for Museums at Night, writing poems about the historic London ice trade. You can read more about the project on my associated ice poetry blog.