The Iron House

She opened the door and the dead
child stood lisping on the porch, its hands
unable to grip the bell, its voice too weak to call.

The day before St Mårten’s, she carefully peeled away
the crisp white paper from the plump flesh
of the best goose her money could buy,
and cooked a feast, which she put in a hamper
with linen, silver and rich red wine.
Then she walked through the woods to the iron house,
with the hamper steaming on her back.
Above she heard the slow propeller of the island geese
as they went in search of the lost summer.

No one liked the iron house: a corrugated metal shed,
storehouse for the island’s winter waste. Each spring
when the flies appeared, grim men came from Värmdö
and scooped it like an egg, and it remained an empty shell
until the coming of the ice, until the flies were dead again.

The door seemed so hard to open, she was afraid
it was jammed, but it sprung open suddenly
and a stench of rotting whined in her head,
as light like grease slid in beside her.
A mob of grubby refuse bags
leaned against the dirty walls,
still and open-mouthed.

She spread the cloth on the concrete floor,
laid out the meal, poured the wine, then slammed the place
back into a cube of dark, and locked it with the bolt.

This was where they’d found one of the girls the previous year,
her limbs burst by frost, foetal and dry behind the bolted door.
The other child was never seen again.

She hurried homeward through the trees, the light
was failing fast: darkness had leaked out of the iron house
and spread into the sky. Reaching her cottage,
she lit the lamps and put the kettle on the stove,
but as she drew the curtains, she felt a surge of vertigo,
as if her home had made a quarter turn and she might fall
through the window in the floor.

Her breath was the only sound in the world,
till something walked down the cottage door.