'Isolate' was placed joint first in the Adult Poetry section of the Neil Gunn Writing Competition, 2011. It was written by Susan Richardson, Cardiff.
The theme for 2011 was 'A wrong turning', taken from Neil Gunn's novel 'The Serpent': "Our river took a wrong turning somewhere! But we haven't forgotten the source."
The Neil Gunn Writing Competition is organised by library staff from the Highland Council Education, Culture & Sport Service in partnership with the Neil Gunn Trust. It was first established in 1988.
The Arctic's mother tongue is ice -
unsurprisingly, once, she was fluent.
She knew, too, the grammar of snow,
learnt to converse with firn and dendrites.
And though a few loan words from melt
ice's purity felt secure.
But then melt-speakers surged
further and further north.
Frozen idioms thinned.
Even the Pole had to begin
to be bilingual.
Now, she gropes for graupel.
Verbs of love, and lullabies, avalanche
from her vocabulary.
Slush is spelt differently these days.
It's too late for a revival,
to force-learn by immersion. Talking
for a year won't work.
For the world wants a language of ships ripping
through easy seas, a syntax free
of narwhals and crampons.
The Arctic still dreams in ice.
And when she speaks melt
it's with a rime-tinged accent, a flavour
of old glaciers and floes.
She's supposed to feel pleased
about the freezer archives.
But grief calves
from her throat
now she has no other means
to hear what ice was like.