Woohoo, Winter Olympics!

Being an Aussie, Winter Sports weren’t exactly a feature of my growing up. I was twelve before I saw snow for the first time, and in my twenties before I ever tried skiing. Which may be one of the reasons why I do love snow. Living in Yorkshire for three years meant that I even got to experience a white Christmas a couple of times (although “white speckled” is a more accurate description.)

And snow has a particular resonance for me as a poet too. Christchurch doesn’t often get snow staying on the ground in winter – no snow at all some years, and other years might just be enough to stay for 24 hours or so, or with a few small drifts against fences and in the shadow of trees. But the year that I decided to take writing poetry seriously, we had a cold winter. And the day I wrote what was my first really decent poem, it snowed.

It’s one of those strange memories made out of emotion and colour as much as image. I remember feeling breathless. And looking up from my workbook to see big fluffy snowflakes swirling lazily down, brushing against the window. So slowly, so gently. The lawn was covered, and I hadn’t even noticed. As though the world had changed while I wasn’t looking; as though the act of writing had translated everything I thought I knew into this other world. And it had.

So in honour of snow and the Winter Olympics, I thought I’d post this poem. I wrote it in Ilkley – Englishman Kristan Bromley was winning World Cup races in Skeletonthat year, so there was quite a lot of coverage of the sport. And something about the idea of hurling yourself headfirst down the same track they use for bobsledding just cried out for a poem.

New Zealand has three Skeleton competitors in this year’s Games: Iain Roberts, Ben Sandford and Tionette Stoddard. And there are also three Aussies: Anthony Deane, Emma Lincoln and Melissa Hoar. They all have their first runs at 1 pm (NZ time) on Friday 19th. Good luck guys. Do us all proud.

Skeleton

To hurl your own bones
skull first
down a twisting
chine of ice,

on a dinner tray
balanced
on two steel blades

this
is free-fall,
air banked
like snow,

rime on the lip
of high, sharp bends,
teeth an inch
from the ice

speed is bled
into frozen walls,
skin shaking rush
toe-steered,

body straight
a falcon’s stoop

the thin pane
of fontanelle,
a pulse, to be
unborn again

but ready this time,
headfirst
and down

into the cold,
the brilliant
light.

published in
The Summer King
(OUP, 2009)

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