Katabatic I

The wind irons ripples
into the snowy expanse

Forever doing housework
and sweeping away loose snow

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Wish Upon Antarctica

Once upon Gondwanaland
Where glossopteris grew and dinosaurs roamed
Your wish-upon-a star was born

Or rather, became visible to the naked eye
As the gentle rhythm of day and night
Rocked loose the plates so far below

Southward bound, as we are today
They travelled to the edge of place
And the longest day, where time stood still

All wishes here are put on ice
And Peter Pan grows wrinkles too
From squinting at the frozen glare

And making out the leaves that freeze
Their memory into ancient stones
Alongside ores that don’t belong.

***

Once upon Antarctica
Where ice sheets grow and scientists roam
Your wish-upon-a star was found

Still stars rain down from far above
Scarring the ice with blackened heat
As interlopers on this white plateau

Traverse the ice to find a sign
About the universe’s once-upon-a-time
In rocks that lie so far from home

At season’s end the sun dips low
And dormant skies are seen once more
As shadows lengthen on the snow

And constellations emerge unchanged
While meteorites and fossil trees
Share shelf space behind polished glass

DJ Seal

Whales sing underwater symphonies,
but Weddell seals out-zane Led Zeppelin.

Electric guitars ricochet under ice,
strobing and zigzagging and bouncing
off your eardrums inside of your brain in ways
that the drab speckling of their blubber
and rock-pool shine of their eyes
would never have you believe.

Rock-stars in disguise, they party to the underwater trace,
enticing those more accustomed to the whales’ sigh
to change the channel,
dare to experiment,
live a little.

Departmental Party

By the time we start making the third round of Caipariñas
The glaciologists have gathered in the kitchen
And started showing interest in the ice we crush
Grinding it glass by glass to smithereens like stones on a shore.

“Tell us,” we tease “What is the history of this cube?”
They rub their chins in consideration
and lament the absence of their machines that go ‘ping’
“The blue core,” says one “indicates a quick freezing.”
PhD students are summoned to provide further commentary
and an argument ensues over dominant chemical isotopes
Before it is agreed that, given all visible indicators
and the taste of the cubes when added to the South American concoction
– We’d better try another, just to be sure –
the likely source is the petrol station on the corner.

(They swear this educated guess
is reached by powers of deduction
and has nothing to do with the labeled bag of ice in the chilly bin by the door.)

“Impressive” we say, as we fill our glasses and slide the crusher over in their direction.
“You sure know your ice. We’ll leave things in your capable hands.”
Needless to say, the fourth round’s on them.

Winfly

Winfly dawns like any other
For those of us who are accustomed
To the gentle rhythm of day and night
That rocks us through the months and years.
We eat our breakfast, we put on our coats, we go to work
And strangers in the street slip past unnoticed.

Planes come and go.

Down South the breakfast, coats and work
Are joined by trepidation, anticipation, and the spectre
of strangers not yet in their midst
but taking up space all the same.

Peter Pan

McMurdo Station
Is a pile of Lego
Discarded in the dirt
Beneath a playground swing

Tracked vehicles
From a meccano box set
Have sprung to life
Here at the end of the world

They trundle back and forth
Ferrying food scraps and fuel,
Feeding the cycle of
Eat, work, sleep.
The longest day passes.

Meanwhile,
Discarded dreams lie dormant
In primary coloured crates
And perfection is located on the outskirts
Neatly encased in timber

If Only

If only, if only, the South wind moans
I could penetrate coats, get right into bones
I’d take over bodies from deep inside
As the glint of the chill crept into their eyes
I’d banish their warmth and then, in lieu,
I’d tinge their flesh with a blueish hue
Though they may shiver and protest
It’d be too late once I’d made my nest
Once I’d found a hold for my icy tooth
I’d still their hearts and preserve their youth,
If only….

Cape Evans

Light slanting through the window
Colours the room
Like a sepia photograph

Highlighting the jars of pills
And powdered eggs
From the days when the world
Was black and white

Now it’s black and white and blue
Blue like the china in a faraway parlour
Blue like eyes as they blink farewell
Blue, fading sepia with every click of the lens

Leaving history a stain
On a blank canvas

Colourblind

In a place where RED flags mean ‘go’
Symbolism has been turned up

side

down

Here the colourblind never run lights
Even day and night are confused
Just GOING and GOING and GOING
Like a three year old on a sugar high

They are not quite on speaking terms with one another
Avoiding each other at the changeover
Like awkward flatmates living parallel lives

Giving each other a wide berth,
The sunsets of February a note on the fridge
Reading ‘Need more loo paper. J.’

When RED means ‘go’
It’s best not to read too much into that statement

Stunning in White

“Antarctica looks stunning in white and she knows it”

Antarctica has been depicted as a seductress many times, playing on the trope of the pole as a sleeping beauty. Amundsen knew the continent as a ‘she’, writing ‘Beauty is still sleeping, but the kiss is coming, the kiss that will wake her’ (The South Pole, 1912). Bill Manhire expanded on it, talking of a ‘seductress’ and making sweet love. This idea seems to reinforce the notion that Antarctica is a masculine space, a space for men to act out their fantasies of conquering, of winning, of having the power to awaken with a kiss and, implicitly, from then on control. What is conquered is tamed, is obedient, is no longer a threat.

We have asked questions such as ‘what does it mean to be a tourist going to the ice? What does it mean to be a scientist? What does it mean to be a student, an ambassador? What about ‘what does it mean to be a woman’? For a female to head to the most barren, inhospitable continent on earth is contrary to the image of the apple, the age old tale of fertility and original sin. You can’t freeze apples, they oxidize. They don’t thaw out the same.

And how will we thaw out? Sore thumbs in a microbial landscape, digging holes in the snow under Dali’s sky. Magnifying, reflecting, analyzing.
What will we find?

Striations mark the progress of her sister lands and if we were less careful we might say she mourns the loss. Instead this land stays dry, a frozen, sliding mask that betrays little of the stony faces far below.

Antarctica holds many secrets within her belly that are yet to be discovered. Lake Vostock, a womb, laid out on the operating table awaiting the caesarean that will tear open the moist dark warmth, expose the microbes not yet ready to see the light. The kiss has been administered and she stirs, her sighs a surge of katabatic winds. She stretches, cracks her fingers to release tabular bergs into the sea. Her glacial fingers snatch at her abdomen, silent in their screams. And still they drill.

They conquer.