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By 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 Bio

John Haines
John Haines was born in Norfolk, Virginia and attended the National Art School in Washington, DC, American University, Hans Hoffmann School of Fine Art, and the University of Washington. He lived and worked in Alaska for years as a hunter, gardener, fisherman, trapper, and homesteader before being named the state’s Poet Laureate in 1969. In 1997, Haines was named a Fellow by the Academy of American Poets, and he has received a lifetime achievement award from the Library of Congress. See More By This Poet

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