Imagine a ship held fast all winter long.
Start again: you have to remember
it’s an Arctic winter, with no daylight.
How to picture such darkness?
You have to imagine the body.
Hammocks below decks, close quarters,
feet, sweat, farts: a sort of warmth.
The grip of ice knocking on the hull.
Creaking – not as of timbers riding seas:
as of strangulation.
No one ever seems to mention
(Only Lowenstein, a century later, reports
the Inupiak’s 50-gallon drums of slops
rolled out – frozen, remember, odourless – onto the ice
for summer’s melt to swallow whole.)
You have to imagine the tedium.
(Collingwood – yes, I have my favourites –
built a table for his crew of polished ice
and taught them billiards:
they would not miss, he said, the baize,
never having known it.)
Months, dark and cold. Waiting for moons.
It might even have been relief to be on watch.
Suppose Francis Pocock has not yet died
and, staring south, thinks he makes out a flare.
He’s heard talk of mirage, shuts his eyes,
opens. Then he’s sure: a bright curve
– imagine the shout that goes up.
Light, and more tomorrow. And then full sun.
Relief at the return even of short days.
To be on the move. Busyness, preparation, anticipation.
Imagine days lengthening, days
the sun does not set –
and still the ice does not let go.
Imagine the sun dipping again
below the horizon, and still
the ice has not let go.