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  • Alan Ward

Ice Well, 1896

They say you can’t buy time. Ice is another story.

River cubes shuffled across the North Sea:

solid time, liquid time. These stony blocks are days,

these are weeks; milk that won’t turn,

meat that will keep. Leaking chips of Norway

count the minutes dogged out of Oppegård with drips;

cry out one half of themselves from mountain lake

to British counter.

It’s unstoppable, inevitable:

melting, the future – farms are coming,

machines that will draw ice from the air, a war.

These pits will outlast their charge. In will tumble dust,

houses which stand now but won’t always,

shrapnel and bomb casings, a bloodstained tea towel,

a kettle, an odd shoe – sucked into the dark,

coming to rest in puddles where ice

has taught the walls a thing or two about melting.


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.

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