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Polar Explorer Capt. John Cleves Symmes (1820)

Outside his Cincinnati windows, a street game in full swing.

Some kid shouts Safe! Another jeers Symmes’ hole!

A fight breaks out. Inside, Symmes keeps pressing

his human face against the frozen wall of what

is known, not seeing through but melting into it

his own features, his own strange form. He wanted

explanations for the plenty at the poles:

caribou twice the size of white-tailed deer,

white bears dwarfing black, schools of herring

that return each year fat and flashing, more fish

than ever could fit into an ice-choked ocean.

Shouldn’t the north be barren? Wouldn’t the cold…

Hope effervesced in him, bubbled toward utopia. Americus,

he’d say to his son, there is more to discover

and we’ll be patron to it. It could almost pass

for science—the icy ring and sloping verge

that he proposed, a concavity, a hole four thousand

miles across at the globe’s north end, and,

for symmetry, six thousand at the south, another earth

within our earth, more perfect, richer, the borealis

streaming from it like a neon sign.

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

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