The Ice Factory

by Philip Gross

“Not a great deal is known about this minor industry,which appears to have had a short life…”
     – Helen Harris, The Industrial Archaeology of Dartmoor

A hush like a shut Bible. father: “grace
will wait…” The latch clacks. Our stare
lifts from our cold meat, from the empty place
to the door, and cousin Joseph. His chair
grates on the flags, and Father: “Now
let us pray…”
                       Who knew him? Slow
to speak or laugh, slow at the plough,
some kind of fool, they said. I’d go
to fetch him in from the topmost field:
“This place don’t give us nothing free
but rain. So Father says.”
                                        He smiled.
November: bitter drizzle. He
went up the hillside as the cloud came down.
December: snow penned us behind doors.
The first clear morning, we’d see thin
tracks, wavering slightly, up into the moor.
In March, I followed. Jumbled stone
in a windy hollow; black peat-water riffling;
a turf-wadded hut. “You’ve come alone?”
He prised the door. “Then look.” Nothing,
I saw nothing,  or a glistening black, before
the ice-cold took my breath. His chill
smile:” Things aren’t always where
they’re needed. Are we, girl?”
he was gone. Was seen, halfway to town,
cart lumbering under bales of moss and straw,
steaming and dripping. “Taking water down,”
they laughed. “Thought that’s what river’s for.”
Then nothing. Though the horse was found
by the docks where the tall ships come. All year
they traded stories- “mad”, “enlisted”, “drowned”
-and tell them still for any stranger’s beer
since the farm’s gone back to moor.
                                                        And now
this flimsy envelope:”…New York”. Inside,
“My father would have wished…”
                                                   He was rich somehow;
had grandsons; mentioned me before he died.