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A Grim Place for Ponies: South Pole Expedition, 1910

The men wrap burlap over splitting hooves

and rig wide shoes to fool the ice. The men

fill diaries with haunch and hoof,

quirks and favorites. With frostbit hands

the men brush their ponies twice daily.

Stroke and groom.

Punch, Nobby, Guts, Blücher, Blossom,

Jimmy Pigg, Weary Willie, Uncle Bill

Nightly, the men hack shelters in snow

to protect them. Which are nightly

bucked down
then rebuilt as tents fray.

I must say that the abandoning of the ponies

was the one thing that had never entered my head.

Their implicit trust in us was touching to behold.

Misplaced, mis-engineered and miscast

as steeds for these knights—or so

the men imagine themselves, trudging

toward a goal found only by magic,

lodestone bowing to earth’s nadir—

it’s the ponies that pull this tale,

make these blusterers attendants:

The poor beast was barely able to struggle out

of the holes it made as it plunged forward.

Choose only white ones, Scott ordered.

But what do ponies know of Empire and the National

Effort? Of stiff upper lip and steely jaw?

Guts himself had gone, and a dark streak of water alone

showed the place where the ice had opened under him.

Braided tails brittle with ice. Tack tattering

in katabatic winds. Ideas of care were rent.

Poor trustful creatures! Getting the pick I struck

where Titus told me.

Feed bag now lining boots. Flank meat

for stew. A mound of snow

blown over the remains.

from Approaching IceFind it in the library

Copyright © Persea Books 2010
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Persea Books.

Published in Elizabeth Bradfield Poems

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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