Ice Child

By John Haines 1924–2011 John Haines
Cold for so long, unable to speak,
yet your mouth seems framed
on a cry, or a stifled question.

Who placed you here, and left you
to this lonely eternity of ash and ice,   
and himself returned to the dust   
fields, the church and the temple?

Was it God—the sun-god of the Incas,   
the imperial god of the Spaniards?
Or only the priests of that god,   
self-elected—voice of the volcano
that speaks once in a hundred years.

And I wonder, with your image before me,   
what life might you have lived,
had you lived at all—whose companion,   
whose love? To be perhaps no more   
than a slave of that earthly master:

a jug of water on your shoulder,
year after stunted year, a bundle
of reeds and corn, kindling
for a fire on whose buried hearth?

There were furies to be fed, then   
as now: blood to fatten the sun,
a heart for the lightning to strike.

And now the furies walk the streets,   
a swarm in the milling crowd.   
They stand to the podium, speak   
of their coming ascension ...

Through all this drift and clamor   
you have survived—in this cramped   
and haunted effigy, another entry   
on the historian’s dated page.   

Under the weight of this mountain—
once a god, now only restless stone,   
we find your interrupted life,   
placed here among the trilobites   
and shells, so late unearthed.

John Haines, “The Ice Child” from For the Century’s End: Poems 1990-1999. Used with the permission of the University of Washington Press.

Source: For the Century's End: Poems 1990-1999 (University of Washington Press, 1999)

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Poet John Haines 1924–2011

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Subjects Living, History & Politics, Social Commentaries, Youth, Time & Brevity, Death

 John  Haines


Poet and essayist John Haines was born in 1924 and studied art and painting at the National Art School, the American University, and the Hans Hoffmann School of Fine Art. In 1947, Haines bought a 160-acre homestead claim 80 miles outside of Fairbanks, Alaska, intending to pursue painting. According to Haines, when his paints froze, he turned to writing. His collections of poetry include Winter News (1966); The Stone Harp (1971); . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, History & Politics, Social Commentaries, Youth, Time & Brevity, Death

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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