When I Was a Glacier

That Bruegel painting
of hunters returning
in winter, the filmmakers
go nuts for it. A sad rabbit
on a stick & more. It’s like
really in there, tonally—
a male, disappointed
group trudge towards
a more lighthearted
communal flurry, women
and children full of fire
upholding weird roofs
doing the real work.

A moment ago I moved
something (not particularly
large) to the other side
of the table and felt
so old and immense
and in control. Like a truck
crunching on its path.
I project white onto the
floorboards. And isn’t
this music from that ballet
that always makes us?
from a folktale-pink shock

of pure quartz through the wall.
Give me one irregular mark
for my thigh to pit the year
against. 16th century sound
gets all over the daybed
and you relocate your teeth
to the opposite nipple.
My thought in that moment
it’s a brutal cave.
Brightest bird, tailfeather,
increasing gray line, fail me
my distant mountain.


Copyright © 2016 by Emily Skillings. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 11, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“I’ve always loved Bruegel’s The Hunters in the Snow and noticed that many filmmakers have used it in their films: Tarkovsky, Lars von Trier, etc. I’m attracted to the way it shows different planes of experience in somewhat varying emotional registers existing simultaneously in one space. There’s the foreground of the discouraged hunters, the kinetic community of ice skaters, and this kind of unfathomable, green-gray distance containing what is perhaps my favorite bird in all of painting. I wanted to use the dynamics of the artwork as a starting off point (and perhaps a visual anchor) for a poem that jump-cuts between mediums, sensations, and feelings of purpose or purposelessness. I think it’s an ‘indoors poem’ that wants to be an ‘outdoors poem.’ The title is a misheard Nicki Minaj lyric. In her 2010 song ‘Your Love,’ she says, ‘When I was a geisha he was a samurai.’ I thought for months she was saying ‘glacier’ and was disappointed when someone corrected me. I liked the ideas of glaciers and samurais being connected, which of course they are.”
—Emily Skillings