The horse won’t know how its metatarsal
can be whittled by friction with the lake,
how the act of skating is part halting
glide, part planer blade; or how thick ice melts
back to health, its grooves, its scuffed ‘v’s, softening
to fill their own wounds. And the horse won’t know
how the skating boy, who opens his mouth
as he flies, will lose three blunt teeth, two milk,
one new; how these teeth, also, will be found.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2015. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editor in 2015 was Ken MacLeod.
Skates work by melting the ice under their edge; the thread of water re-freezes almost as soon as the pressure is off. We're put in the odd position of knowing things about horse and boy that they could never have known, and at the same time finding ourselves in the dark about what happened to them, and will happen to us.
The notion of bone against ice is a visceral one: both substances can be carved or scored. The poem grew from a kind of magical association between bone and ice – both are self-repairing, but ice, depending on the temperature, is so much better at covering its traces, and being made again. I find a poignancy in this, and it emerged, in the poem, through the layering of time: the horse in the most distant past of the poem; and the Vikings themselves, represented by the ‘skating boy’, a little closer to us – but not much. And the narrative voice is witness to all the events, including the archaeological finds. Everything has happened and yet is still to happen. I hoped to capture something lasting in the transient marks we have made and continue to make, and to reanimate them through the healing action of ice reforming.