Poetry / September 2016 (Issue 33)

The Ice-Makers of Trần Hưng Đạo Street

by Paul Christiansen

Before the sky cracks the sun open against coastal cliffs,
yolky light spilling across the city’s cement and shell-strewn soil,

the employees of the corner ice factory are awake, at work,
their cigarettes burning in the dark like the fluorescent esca of anglerfish.

Wearing nothing but cotton shorts and knee-high rubber boots,
they spray tap water from rusty spigots into long, metal canisters,

then peel back the building’s lead floorboards,
sliding the ten-foot flasks into deep concrete catacombs,

where a hidden, lichen-like complex of cords, tubes and wires
transforms the tepid water into cold, crystalline blocks.

The workers rest beneath fan blades that pace like captive tigers,
rising only to disinter the ice using sprigs of rebar.

They make a stack of fresh slabs that steams like a waking volcano,
then skid each block down a wooden shoot into the back of a pickup truck.

Not the purified cubes fit for bars or restaurants,
the delivered product will be chopped and shattered,

splintered into nests for the markets’ prawns, snappers, squid and eels,
or dumped into the coconut-filled coolers of vendors lining the tourist beach.

Meanwhile, the ice-makers of Trần Hưng Đạo Street will make their way home,
their frozen fingers being coaxed back into feeling by the sun—

barbaric sun of ammonites and australopithecine
that forbids glaciers from laying apathetic lips on Earth’s feverish, equatorial temple.
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