Signs on a White Field

Robin Robertson

The sun’s hinge on the burnt horizon
has woken the sealed lake,
leaving a sleeve of sound. No wind,
just curved plates of air
re-shaping under the trap-ice,
straining to give; the groans and rumbles
like someone shifting heavy tables
– or something gigantic
turning to get comfortable.
I snick a stone over the long sprung deck
to get the dobro’s glassy note, the crying
slide of a bottleneck, its
tremulous ululation to the other shore.
The rocks are ice-veined; the trees
swagged with snow.
Here and there, a sudden frost
has caught some turbulence in the water
and made it solid: frozen in its distress
to a scar, or a skin-graft.
Everywhere, frost-heave has jacked up boulders
clear of the surface, and the ice-shove
has piled great slabs on the lake-edge
like luggage tumbled from a carousel.

A racket of jackdaws, the serrated call
of a falcon as I walk out onto the lake.

A living lens of ice; you can hear it bending,
breathing, re-adjusting its weight and light
as the hidden tons of water
swell and stretch underneath,
thickening with cold.
A low grumble, a lingering vibrato, creaks
that seem to echo back and forth for hours;
the lake is talking to itself. A loud
twang in the ice. Twitterings
in the railway lines
from a train about to arrive.
A pencilled-in silence,
hollow and provisional.
And then it comes.
The detonating crack, like a gun
or a dropped plank,
as if the whole lake has snapped in two
and the world will follow,
falling into fracture.
But all that happens
is a huge release of sound: a boom
that rolls under the ice for miles,
some fluked leviathan let loose
from centuries of sleep, trying to push through,
shaking the air like sheet metal, deep
and percussive as a muffled giant drum.

I hear the lake all night, like a distant war.
In the morning’s brightness,
I brush the snow off with a glove,
smooth down a porthole in the crust
and find, somehow, the living green beneath.
The green leaf looks back and sees
a man walking out in this shuddering light
to the sound of air under the ice,
out onto the lake, among sun-cups,
snow penitents: a drowned man
waked in this weathering ground.