Underneath the ice
Indian Paintbrush by John E Marriott

It is the pivot of the year.
The Ice Queen prowls the tundra
restlessly seeking release;
with every pulse of her blood
a shimmering aurora ripples
across the snowy folds of her garment.

A curious white fox
bounds up in greeting,
then hunkers down again as
the Queen’s quarrelsome fretting
echoes across the waste:
The heat, the heat! It would undo an iceberg!

The fox abandons her camouflage.
She barks out a greeting
and gambols to her side,
and the Queen bends down,
stroking the soft white fur
into a deep shade of russet.

Her intemperate love can do this.
Startled, she apologises.
It‘s my most awkward feature,
impossible since birth.
Even now, listen how it
thunders with abandon!

But the fox is chasing her tail,
intrigued by its sudden change of colour.
The animal sniffs the air and departs.
I’m told they used to bequeath hearts,
the Queen calls after her.
But who would have mine?

Metaphysicians would locate
the soul in the brain, but what do they know?
Deep in the night the valves flutter open:
the molten scar murmurs,
its mantle grown crusty
with pearls of uncertain worth.

Even here, this far north,
the Ice Queen’s tears never freeze.
The red deer roam, winter-thin and impatient.
And on the other side of the world
mothers brush light into
their daughters’ auburn tresses.

Bears in their dens dream
of succulent scarlet berries
springing from her touch.
She continues her sojourn in silence,
and underneath the ice
harbours a hot red secret.

Indian paintbrush
© John E Marriott

Since 2001, and apart from 2005 when I was recovering from a serious illness, I have written one poem a year.These poems were all inspired by images I had found in cards that subsequently became my ‘seasons greetings’.

This year I couldn't find inspiration in any of the usual sources, so I began a search of the internet. I soon came across the website of Canadian wildlife photographer John E Marriott; when I saw his photograph of the Indian paintbrush cocooned in the snow I knew I had found my inspiration.

John has kindly allowed me to reproduce the image here. To see more of his work, visit his website:


Nora Leonard, November 2007