Commissioned Poem by Helen Mort: ‘The Library of Ice’

As part of our collaboration with Helen Mort and the Poetry Society on the ‘I am the Universe’ competition, we commissioned a poem from Helen that she read in public for the first time at the Mediating Climate Change conference in July. Helen’s poem engages brilliantly with some of the project’s key themes, particularly the agency of nonhuman nature.

The Library of Ice
after David Buckland’s ‘The Cold Library of Ice’.
In the library of ice, the shelves
were bridal-white, crevassed, unreachable.
I watched the fjord, how gently
it could carry off a single page of cold,
then volumes, sections, half
the world. The sky was a bored librarian
in cloudless blue, the calving face
an index I could never read.
No list, no human names, no litany
of winters unreturned.
I looked for a language I could know
like music, and the library offered up
the sound of shifting boulders,
the glacier’s shoulders lifting them,
too slow to hear. I looked
for a language I could know like braille
and my fingers froze against
each sign I touched. I looked
for a language I could know like colour,
saw the near-transparency of air
around a flame. In the library of ice,
I knew that I was smaller than a book.
The years dripped into centuries.
I stood and waited to be classified
as if the glacier would pick me up
and stamp my bones with frost
then let the absent evening come,
the high sun borrow me.