Of Ice and Men

After Paige Ackerson-Kiely
During the ascent we discovered an almost fascist fetishisation of the body.  When the Emperor egg collectors returned, they found us replete, our mouths tasting of cormorants slaughtered by calving bergs.  We had lost our sealskin mitts long ago, but now used cormorant hearts, pulsing in our palms like hand-warmers.  By the time the accumulation of snow had exceeded the shadows we had become robots - wedding rings, cloth, spectacle frames embedded in our freezing, peeling skin.  We were so small we could lie top to tail on the iceberg, groaning.  In the distance… Mt Scott and Mt Kathleen, closer in ice than in life.

Dr Wilson's Painting Lessons: Number Four - how to paint whiteness
Don your lunar halo, it will make moondogs dance in front of your eyes like grains of dust.  By all means paint drifts of crystals over dreaming bodies but, at the same time notice that the world is not black and white but shades of grey and that you must draw the horizon as a dark and dreadful smudge.  Arc a crescent moon, like a leaping hare, to shine through standing stones onto an altar of packed ice.  You have painted the opposite of white.  Take off your halo and now with your unaided eyes understand that moonlight has a way of showing all things.

Ballad of the Saltwater Men
We had drunk with men of Ely, those freshwater Poseidons of the flatboats.  They told us that the eels captured in the prongs of their glaives were dragon-spawn; how an eel pie would give you dragonfire in your belly.  So when we saw a fish as big as an island spouting water from its swollen head, we were not surprised the bards had lied, we knew Beowulf had not all monsters slain.  And what can poets know of the whirling deep we sailors ride, those starless nights that send you mad?  I will sing on my return of how I looked into the white-rimmed eye of that creature, whiffed his oiliness, heard his song.

Cape Crozier 1911
Three days before the hatching three men came across the ice.  They had travelled far, their faces moonburnt, their eyes snowblind, their legs worn so thin but heavy as houses.  They cut the throat of the black and white bird even though she was as strong as a tall man.  They pocketed the egg, warmed by the midnight sun, that she had laid on her ice nest.  The embryo, bald as a professor, tiny heart racing with the joy of being nearlyborn, sensed a cold bright light through its filmy eyes; then its heart stopped, taking with it practically the whole of the known world.

     © Sue Burge 2015