Under the Ice

ancestors grief shapeshifting Feb 23, 2022

It is said that the sound of the cello is closest in tambour to the human voice. 


This must not be the voice of any ordinary human, I think, but one who accepts the ongoing metamorphosis of all things.


For it feels as though the cello knows how to find the edges of our being, its music pushing into the resilient depths of what we are made of. It knows that the impermanence of life holds beauty and grief in a tangled embrace. I imagine the cello’s grunts and moans surfacing from the stomachs of crystal caverns hidden in the earth. Its sound is something dying, something dancing, something flying into a thunderstorm, something birthed from a blackhole.


It is our underworld voice, echoing our richest, darkest expression. 


What does one do when the cello is playing, when there is a slow dying happening, always holding the promise of rebirth? 


Friction and disintegration work through me in dreams of bleak, grey landscapes with needle-pointed mountains and snow hidden lakes. Ice floes are cracking, separating, falling apart. I am falling apart. The ice only knows how to change shape. Its voice is a fire crackling, wind chimes tinkling, sea monsters grunting, stirring. I cautiously encourage this dissolution of the things I think I know. In the dark my fingers run along the edge of my tolerance for change, the threshold of what I think I can bear.


In other dreams there are faces under the ice, peering back at me. They are calm and know how to trust themselves completely. There is no room for error in this unforgiving crush. Do not forget which way is up. There is an unbelievable peace here too, when you know how to give yourself over. I am aware of my blood slowing under my skin. I have a hibernating bear’s heart. My eyes are wide open in the crystal clear water. As I peer out beyond the animal of this sleeping ice, a memory of warmth, a different kind of heat, sustains me.


©️ Kendra Ward, 2020

Excerpt published in We'Moon 2022: The Magical Dark, p.80


Author's Note: This piece arose spontaneously while I was deep in grief, preparing to leave my home of seventeen years in order to move across the country. During this same time period I became obsessed with pranayama and free diving, especially under ice.

My sadness and the ice; they were no accidental twins.  

Grandmother ice has this way of essentializing, simplifying, pressurizing out the excess. I feel her spirit traced all the way back through the ancestral leylines, to a time of big bangs and before, when the very oldest/newest of elements ruled.

Under the ice, suddenly you are everywhere. You are subject to the shapeshifting of all water: the steamy, summer thunderstorm of childhood memory, the vapor rising off of Jupiter' moon, the gurgling, naiad-throned creek in the backyard.  

Grief, like ice, has this way of grasping us and squeezing, taking us out of time and space and imploring: who are you, who are you, who are you? 

When you surface, what remains?