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Poems from Stolen Light

Under the Ice

Like Coleridge, I waltz
on ice. And watch my shadow
on the water below. Knowing that
if the ice were not there
I'd drown. Half willing it.

In my cord jacket
and neat cravat, I keep
returning to the one spot.
How long, to cut
a perfect circle out?

Something in me
rejects the notion.
The arc is never complete.
My figures-of-eight
almost, not quite, meet.

Was Raeburn's skating parson
a man of God, poised
impeccably on the brink;
or his bland stare
no more than a decorous front?

If I could keep my cool
like that. Gazing straight ahead,
not at my feet. Giving
no sign of knowing
how deep the water, how thin the ice.

Behind that, the other
question: whether the real you
pirouettes in space,
or beckons from under the ice
for me to come through.

© Stewart Conn

Air and Water

For James Rankin

The Bible beaten into him (thrashed excessively
but exclusively on week-days, to preserve the calm
of the Sabbath) Muir one of three children (the others
left with their mother in Dunbar) taken to settle
in the Wisconsin prairie. First Fountain Lake;

then Hickory Hill where when he was twelve his father,
desperate to hit water, lowered him in a bucket
with hammer and chisel, to hack obdurate sandstone out.
Eighty feet down, the air so carbonised he collapsed
and could have died, if not hauled to the surface.

Subsequently University, and departure from home:
thereafter his own man. But nightmares the remainder
of his life, choking in an underground pit -- the father
stentorian as ever; his comeuppance that his son,
Nature's disciple, would not credit its glories to God.

Years later on the Yosemite trail, the thrawn
old Scotchman he'd become leaping from snow-pool
to challenge his President to a wrestling-bout:
an immigrant, battling for his American dream,
tackling Big Business head-on. The marvel, he won.

Roosevelt, needing the Californian vote, later
to welch on him, turning Hetch-Hetchy into a dam.
Muir still worshipping his open spaces, the supreme
escape from that father who drove him below ground.
What better than a Wilderness, to liberate the mind.

© Stewart Conn

Not from Stolen Light

At Eau Claire

Written at UW Eau Claire 31 March 2000

Walking in the Kips*, the Sunday
before leaving home, I saw a plaque
to the inventor of the Cloud Chamber
in which particles can be traced

by their progress through saturated air.
And I pictured your teachers
passing down tradition
to students in great halls,

postgrads colorfully pursuing
their courses in corners
of the aquarium: over all,
a great bell resounding.

At altitude mists can close in,
invest their own radiance:
as they break, perfect vision.
So visiting you has brought me

refractions of light, fresh
perspectives and ways of seeing.
And imprinted on azure skies:
A la suite de l'eau, les nuages.

*- the Kips: hills outside Edinburgh

© Stewart Conn