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ICICLES ROUND A TREE IN DUMFRIESSHIRE

Written by: Ruth Padel | Biography
 We're talking different kinds of vulnerability here.
These icicles aren't going to last for ever Suspended in the ultra violet rays of a Dumfries sun.
But here they hang, a frozen whirligig of lightning, And the famous American sculptor Who scrambles the world with his tripod For strangeness au naturel, got sunset to fill them.
It's not comfortable, a double helix of opalescent fire * Wrapping round you, swishing your bark Down cotton you can't see, On which a sculptor planned his icicles, Working all day for that Mesopotamian magic Of last light before the dark In a suspended helter-skelter, lit By almost horizontal rays Making a mist-carousel from the House of Diamond, * A spiral of Pepsodent darkening to the shadowfrost Of cedars at the Great Gate of Kiev.
Why it makes me think of opening the door to you I can't imagine.
No one could be less Of an icicle.
But there it is - Having put me down in felt-tip In the mystical appointment book, You shoot that quick * Inquiry-glance, head tilted, when I open up, Like coming in's another country, A country you want but have to get used to, hot From your bal masqu?, making sure That what you found before's Still here: a spiral of touch and go, Lightning licking a tree Imagining itself Aretha Franklin * Singing "You make me feel like a natural woman" In basso profondo, Firing the bark with its otherworld ice The way you fire, lifting me Off my own floor, legs furled Round your trunk as that tree goes up At an angle inside the lightning, roots in The orange and silver of Dumfries.
* Now I'm the lightning now you, you are, As you pour yourself round me Entirely.
No who's doing what and to who, Just a tangle of spiral and tree.
You might wonder about sculptors who come all this way To make a mad thing that won't last.
You know how it is: you spend a day, a whole life.
Then the light's gone, you walk away * To the Galloway Paradise Hotel.
Pine-logs, Cutlery, champagne - OK, But the important thing was making it.
Hours, and you don't know how it'll be.
Then something like light Arrives last moment, at speed reckoned Only by horizons: completing, surprising With its three hundred thousand * Kilometres per second.
Still, even lightning has its moments of panic.
You don't get icicles catching the midwinter sun In a perfect double helix in Dumfriesshire every day.
And can they be good for each other, Lightning and tree? It'd make anyone, Wouldn't it, afraid? That rowan would adore To sleep and wake up in your arms * But's scared of getting burnt.
And the lightning might ask, touching wood, "What do you want of me, now we're in the same Atomic chain?" What can the tree say? "Being the centre of all that you are to yourself - That'd be OK.
Being my own body's fine But it needs yours to stay that way.
" No one could live for ever in * A suspended gleam-on-the-edge, As if sky might tear any minute.
Or not for ever for long.
Those icicles Won't be surprise any more.
The little snapped threads Blew away.
Glamour left that hill in Dumfries.
The sculptor went off with his black equipment.
Adzes, twine, leather gloves.
* What's left is a photo of A completely solitary sight In a book anyone might open.
But whether our touch at the door gets forgotten Or turned into other sights, light, form, I hope you'll be truthful To me.
At least as truthful as lightning, Skinning a tree.
THIS POEM WON THE 1996 National Poetry Prize



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