Genevieve Taggard

Ice Age

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Noiselessly the planets will blow by,
Like smoke, like breath, like driven snow;
Frost-bitten suns on on, on on will blow;
Over earth's curve, the moons, like birds, will fly
Making no noise and only vague shadow.

And spider snow will spin and spin
A tangle of frost to snare earth in.

Little earth, then,
Will house few men:
Little earth, shrunken–
No longer drunken
Purple, splendid, roistering earth;
Little earth hung
With pearls of seas,
Little earth shivering,
About to freeze.

And through her veins, caught in this web,
Life and color and sound will ebb.

There will be faint tints, none
From the center of the sun.

There will be light noises, no
Sound harsher than snow.

Never a sound of thunder or river,
Torrent or stone–
Only vague breath from the old life-giver,
Making her own
Final, lingering filigree
Of frost, blown
On the glass of the sky, in planet and tree,
An icicle moon, a torrent and three
Glittering stars half-grown;
A slight tone
Rippling sound into the stilling river,
The crisp sea.

And spider snow will spin and spin
A tangle of cold to catch earth in.

Morning's red yawn,
Evening's pain,
Never will startle the earth, then;
Pure from her stain,
Her garments discarded or cleansed by the cold clean hands of the rain.

A leaf's lines, a stem's tints,
Make in icy places, prints;
Trace of a foot, of a hooked claw,
Settled to stone since the last thaw;
Minnows bent with wavering
Along a pool's ice-edges cling.

All the beautiful, brave
Colors that curled in the wave–
Flooding ground purple and crimsoning air–
Are battered and rigid and bare.

Earth, bled of her sap,
Too stiff to unfold
The sprouted mold
In the cleft of her lap;

While circles woven nearer now
Hang cold broodings on her brow.

Still, then crackling–once more still–
Icy feet come up the hill.

Pushing back the granite fright
Men sing morning and sing night!

Only singing matters now,
With stark birds on every bough.

Carolling for morning, carolling for noon:
Stiff tasks done with a tiny tune,
And never a note
In timbre any bigger than the tone of a flute–
Little sounds only, coming in your throat,
And the big sounds mute.
Thinner, rarer and more shrill,
As silence whitens on the hill:
Whistling in daylight to keep up nerve,
While blue whiteness comes up the curve.

Bravado of sparse breath
Blown straight at death;
Voices in silences, swooping like birds,
Voices and carolling,
Warm words.
Flung at the sky's stiff stare–
Into the brittle air–
A laugh like a torch's flare....

Desperate gaiety and games,
And pleasantries for comfort like wan flames,
Will be their only way,
For, in the midst of play–
Pause–a long sway,
Something faltering underneath,
The brief
Gasp of the breath, eye's blur,
Blunder of mortal fingers, words too thick to say,
Slight motions underneath the gray
Faces of cloud,
And carolling, carolling, carolling loud,
To keep the cold away.

Some will slouch,
Lazy, brave;
Others crouch
In a hidden cave,
Hearing near and hearing far
Heavy steps from feet of stone
Tread the warping fields alone–
Hearing far and hearing near
The wind's hiss in earth's ear–
Feel
Ground fall, and ground reel,
Brittle footsteps steal
Up the hill and down the cliff,
Touching, snapping, making stiff;
While granite footsteps, grinding numb,
Up the little hollow come.

Not to give in,
Men will go on
Making vague love, kissing wan
Faces. Trying to make
Children with women,
Trying to wake
Hints of old hunger–bitterly break
Flesh that turns marble-hard–trying to take
Life in their arms for their brief comfort's sake.

Women will not move as move
Those confident of love:
Hurt, like a torpid snake,
Agony drags and stirs but cannot wake.

So they will pass their days,
Fostering a child or two–giving names
Of half-remembered music, clamor, sound;
Over hunched shoulders peering round
For cold that creeping comes;
Over and over saying tropic words,
And calling babies after jungle-birds.

They will be cheered with each new child;
And the weird
Pall of the sky, and the wild
Tangle of hooped moons piled
Like rubbish in the pallid west,
Won't trouble them so much
With what they feared:
They'll touch
Cautiously their children and their lovers–clutch
Anything alive.

Not to give in,
Men will go on,
Cold to the chin–
Light-stepping for fear,
Feeling the thin
Ice of the air crack under the weight
Of feather-poised earth, and the near
Nuzzle of snow, and the wind's spear.

Smoke from fire
And ice's smoke
Lunge together,
Fight and choke,
Plunge and throttle and fight, and all
Blue smoke vanishes. Ashes fall.
Some will call the skimming planets, cranes
Going south for winter–nothing more;
And some will sow the icy fields with grains,
Search barren pools,
Harvest sea-weed, plant a pebble, or
Plow snow with patient tools.

And they will never cease to look for spring:
Climb endless hills,
And turn from east to west and west to east;
Imagining the least
Shreds of far color,
Supposing that they feel
Warmth on their faces, following the wheel
Circling on its axis, they will search the sky
For sign of thaw or rain, or any change–
Looking for birds, where only dead stars fly
And calling snows, and deepening snow falls, strange.

In tightening silence, they will search for sound;
Beneath the smother of the sky
Find tangled iron, as the first men found
Iron and more than mortal sinew in the ground.

And they will worship symbols of sure things–
Sure things, and tangible, cut clear.
Forgetting rust, they will keep iron near,
And try to pour into an iron mold
The past's white fire, perishing with cold.
And out of iron's touch upon their palms
Will come a song.
And they will seize stone hammers, make a clang,
Sing as they never sang–
Wild, assaulting, strong;
(Clang, cold clang),
Stone on stone, with iron bits,
Clamped together, (Clang, clang),
Iron twisted till it fits–
Notched and jammed and bolted fast–
Rearing heavily and slow
One monument against snow;
A monument to last, a tomb to hold
Yellow pollen of all past
Against the cold.

Until, in the end, comes twilight glimmer:
Voices, faces, motions dimmer,
Breath as low
As the all-covering snow;
Even the evening and the morning laid
Cheek to cheek, will fade–
Radiance and sound made one
And quieted and blended into none.

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Genevieve Taggard