Fire and Ice by Sarah Coates

Cold Stations, Heavy baggage,
warm trains, Conversations.
Dark, sinuous roads,
through hills white and brown.
A juddering bus,
bright starry sky,
frozen earth.

A large house looms in the gloom.
A stately porch, a generous welcome,
Hot soup and bread!
The wood stove crackles,
people chatter.

Upstairs has a chill in the air,
far away from the fire.
A faded smell of smoke and old furniture.
The taps harbour an indescribable odour.

Noses like stone in the frigid room,
limbs quivering in the covers,
chilled to the bone,
groggily dozing, in and out of dreams.

Soft daylight fills the house,
breakfast comforts our tired bodies,
The hearth warms us.
We are ready for work.

We face the bitter morning outside,
we stand, and I watch,
as sparrows dance amongst the ivy.
Our boots crunch the old snow,
as we slide up icy paths in the woods.

The woods give peace,
with sun on snow
and dark gushing burn.
Icicles hang from the banks.

We take station at our tasks.
The briars are tough, but we are tougher,
We dig roots from the
iron-hard ground
and set the thorny stems alight,
smoke curling into the air.

Removing and burning invasive species and Brambles

Others build fences,
fixing important boundaries.
Others clasp and carry firewood,
precious fuel for the fire’s heat.

The birds are with us,
Ravens crowing, kites soaring.
Blue tits singing, Robins scratching,
searching for worms on the newly bare soil.

After the day of work we are rewarded.
A dinner of curries and rice and bread,
in the toasty room with the fairy lights.
Gentle, relaxed company lights the evening,

Many race to the hot coals of the sauna,
seeking refuge in the fiery heat,
Skin sweating and red faces panting.
A plunging descent into frozen waters,
Steam rises off the emerging bodies.

I sought out the refuge of the hearth to sleep by,
drifting off with the sounds of embers and a ticking clock.
Morning brings frost to the window panes,
but a new fire inside.

The work begins again,
under heavy grey skies,
Trees sighing.
The rain comes.
Voracious sheets of water,
Dripping from branches, washing away snow,
our hands become numb.
The bramble fire protests with hissing steam.

We are quick to finish,
trudging down the hill with sodden coats.
The rain eases, revealing the signs of spring.
Snowdrops appear from under the ice,
pretty, white petals flourishing from green stems.

We return to the house for the last time,
stealing scraps of bread before the journey.
We bundle into the steaming bus,
Sad to watch the quirky old house disappear
in the rear view mirror.

Poem by Sarah Coates

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