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Category archive for: Elizabeth Bradfield

Polar Explorer James Weddell (1822)

When the year’s new ice is four inches thin,

their long incisors cut toward air. By spring the walls rise up

six feet, almost their length. Leptonychotes weddellii. Furthest south

of any seal to pup, they use the frozen sea itself

as nursery, chewing holes to move from suckle to hunt.

Put your ear to ice and you’ll hear their improbable,

space-age trilling. Their songs of claim.

How is legacy achieved? Weddell named nothing

after himself, not sea, not the seal which barely registers

in his accounts. The sea, now his, he called George IV.

A spawning ground for polar ice,

it crushed de Gerlache’s Antarctic. Crushed

the famed Endurance. All winter it grinds clockwise,

seizing and milling what’s trapped, releasing

tabular bergs large enough—the size of Rhode Island!—

to make news even here. And why did Weddell venture

there? The profit of seals hauled out

on the rocky Orkneys and Shetlands but also this:

a hazed set of dots seen once in 1762

and never again—the Aurora Islands.

They are still undiscovered. But Weddell

found his strange fame. One hundred years,

he held the title furthest south and held it

without tragedy. Turning back before turning back was faint

hope or escape thrilling and legend.

He died as many of the southbound did:

in the city he launched from, poor and alone.

And the sea keeps cracking, keeps circling

its confines, creating more ephemeral islands

perforated by the breath holes of sleek-headed

seals, which were never worth much and so never

hunted to dramatic loss, and so less known.

We’ve tried to bring them north

for education, for entertainment, but

they chew into the concrete walls that hold them

and die of infected teeth.

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.

In the Polar Regions

Long from home. Glaciers capping the hills

like false teeth. It’s not just the odd meat

we’re carving, clawed flippers and flightless

wings, or the long-churned distance to any news of home,

any first-born or failing parent. There

are other signs this place is foreign. The ship

converses with ice packed around it, groans

and squeaks, an occasional outraged crack.

It takes a particular man for this, you know,

able to be short-sighted for months on end.

The air is constantly aluminum with snow,

and my mouth, too, tastes of metal. Salt

of iron seeping from my weakened gums.

Each morning, I pack drift around my tongue

to freeze the soft flesh holding my teeth.

It all goes to slush—ground underneath

our tents, my mouth, the knack for conversation.

Walking west, five of us have fallen

to dangle alongside cliffs of ice, the thin crust

breaking into chasm easily, as if such sudden transformations

were to be expected and we’re the fools to be surprised.

Only a thin rope holds us to the surface. Hanging,

there’s nothing to do but stare at the blue contours of freeze

and tongue our loosening teeth, test the stringy roots

that hold them, wait for a tug from the ones left above.

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.

Notes on Bowditch

ice. Frozen water, the solid form of H2O.
Basic. Describing nothing of its colors. Nothing of its cold. Of its different densities and the hard process of freezing. But perhaps a good beginning.

ice anchor. An anchor designed for securing a vessel to ice.
Treachery inherent in the dig of metal flukes, the initial crack of contact.Uncertain mooring that could be drifting,
that could break

into drift.

ice atlas. A publication containing a series of ice charts showing geographic distribution of ice, usually by seasons or months.
Not a bad idea. Can they make one for the climate of the heart?

ice-blink. A whitish glare on low clouds above an accumulation of distant ice.
Endless metaphor, this state, for love or destiny, I’d be no good at spotting this. Each time, I’d convince myself the pale was imagined. That my eyes, blinking to clear, were playing tricks. That the horizon was free of impediments.

ice-bound. Adj. Pertaining to a harbor, inlet, etc. when entry or exit is prevented by ice, except possibly with the assistance of an ice-breaker.
There are always crashing exceptions. Here, each revved-up push leaves a bit of paint, flaked toxin, maybe a weakening of steel in exchange. There is never only one thing being hit.

ice boundary. The demarcation at any given time between fast ice and pack ice or between areas of pack ice of different concentrations. See also ice edge.
Any boundary wanders, sweetheart. Definition to definition.

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.

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