A Brief History of Ice

The iceberg cuts its facets from within.
Like jewelry from a grave

Elizabeth Bishop

Outside the Tate Modern on Christmas Eve,
everyone is touching the blocks of ice two artists
have shipped from the Arctic so we can feel
their melting: a petting zoo of ancient beasts

we slaughtered by accident, now guiltily
glide our hands along the smooth high ridges
of their incisors in the gloveless sun in this
two thousandth eighteenth year of the lord

(how many of us are believers? and in what?
a future writ in water? enough right people
reading this braille before it melts?)—these
blocks calved off icebergs calved off an ice

sheet, a boy now lifts the smallest chunk of
to smash on concrete—leaping joyous at its
shatter as his mother scolds, although the sign
says listen to it, smell it, look *at it, put your hands on; *

studies show we humans are poor abstractors—
will do more to help 20 starving people than 2,000;
need our own hands to tell us we don’t live
in snow globes with tiny houses redolent with pine

and woodsmoke sheltered by glass poles—
a Platonic Christmas Eve of families trailing
the Millennium Bridge, fur coats and velvet
despite the heat (how many generations

have believed in Santa at the North Pole?
Angerona, Greek goddess of winter days?)
(millennium before, her name warned of anguish
from the too-little-time, before the light falls, to do

what’s noble); fathers taking photos of their kids
with the ice, of light through ice, of the guitarist
playing “Pachelbel’s Canon” beyond the ice, as
my husband slides his hand above a vein of water,

blue-green glowing, trapped, otherworldly
(which is not how I should think of it) and says,
It’s perfect he’s playing the most predictable song ever written
as Rome burns. To which say, yes, but I’ve always kind of

loved it;repetitive, but aren’t our lives variations
on tired themes we are not tired of: hope, child,
house,Christmas morning, love—it feels new:
the old threat of coal in our stockings, candy if

we’re good (in older stories, the Whipping Father
boiled children so Santa had to resurrect them)
(we tried to warn ourselves, didn’t we?) (or have
we confused ourselves with resurrections?):

this ice dripping drains to the Thames until
a miracle freezes another future: positive and clear
as the crystals I wore as a pagan teen channeling
good as I walked the aisle to “Pachelbel” to marry

a boy I believed I’d love forever (so many notes
could be predicted, have been predicted), my hand
tracing one fading fin of ice until its slip to concavity,
a landscape that doesn’t belong to me and does;

a roughened slickness I want to compare to manta rays
I felt once in a shallow pool at Sea World, though
doesn’t this have to be about more than describing
loss as another kind of wonder we don’t deserve?

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