The Icehouse in Summer


see Amos, 3:15

A door sunk in a hillside, with a bolt
thick as the boy’s arm, and behind that door
the walls of ice, melting a blue, faint light,
an air of cedar branches, sawdust, fern:
decaying seasons keeping from decay.

A summer guest, the boy had never seen
(a servant told him of it) how the lake
froze three foot thick, how farmers came with teams,
with axe and saw, to cut great blocks of ice,
translucid, marbled, glittering in the sun,
load them on sleds and drag them up the hill
to be manhandled down the narrow path
and set in courses for the summer’s keeping,
the kitchen uses and luxuriousness
of the great houses. And he heard how once
a team and driver drowned in the break of spring:
the man’s cry melting from the ice that summer
frightened the sherbet-eaters off the terrace.

Dust of the cedar, lost and evergreen
among the slowly blunting water walls
where the blade edge melted and the steel saw’s bite
was rounded out, and the horse and rider drowned
in the red sea’s blood, I was the silly child
who dreamed that riderless cry, and saw the guests
run from a ghostly wall, so long before
the winter house fell with the summer house,
and the houses, Egypt, the great houses, had an end.

from The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov (University of Chicago Press, 1977), copyright © 1977 by Howard Nemerov, used by permission of Margaret Nemerov. The recording was made in 1962/1964 at the Library of Congress, Washington DC, and are used with permission of the Library of Congress

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