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ISSUE:  Winter 1983

As we step toward the perfect Antarctic,
Green at first, but deliberate in our hatred,
Which keeps us marching, we are struck
After every kill by the spots of red
On the snow, by the splash on porcelain.
Red, which seems so impossible, wrapped
In the snow of a gull or seal, burgeons
When metal fingers the passion trapped
Inside. Besides these sudden gushings, darkness
And light in various shades of brilliance, haze,
Diffusion, lustre, and utter absence comprise
The antarctic palette. Our balancing trick
Is to walk this narrow spectrum, our eyes
Vacant, missing nothing, not glancing back.


Vacant, missing nothing, not glancing back,
We march the plains of porcelain, chrome,
Formica, glass, and polished tiles that crack
When the temperature dives. It’s just like home.
At night cold fixtures gleam in the snowy light,
Planets freeze in their tracks, and zero
Pinches hard. I slept warm in my tight
Hell at home, icy with fears, burning to go.
Here, at least, we acknowledge imminent
Failure, the emptiness even of reaching
The pole, of seeing the compass spin; we cling
To hatreds: willful, petty, and nearly spent,
They have brought us here, from plains as stinging
And vast, which we paced in our own apartments.


Stinging and vast, paced in small apartments
Or here on an icy continent, difficult plains
Must be crossed. Try to live on dazzle lent
Desolation solely by light on snow: pain
Itself can fuel ecstatic dancing, but only
Briefly. Borrow the nighttime sky, or snow-blind
Walk in more perfect darkness, stepping carefully:
Absence in such magnitude seems sublime.
The sun’s cool million candles burn sight down
To its charcoal root. Darkness gapes at noon
On the floes, each man in a night of his own.
The black sun pings, its echoes, metallic,
All there is for a man with his eyes unlit.
I reach out my arms. There is nothing; I see it.


I reach into nothing, seeing it briefly—
Caverns of absence behind the folds
Of a world that goes. What does not go
Stays here: self in the dark, now accurately
Snouted with lusts, or clawed and toothed
With anger that grows in sickles back into flesh.
Here is the hell of a just inheritance;
This I can say is mine: midnight at noon
On ice at my southern pole. The whole cold
Continent rocks when I drop to my knees,
Too late for contrition, too soon for release
Into anything else, but speared on the old
Two prongs of remorse and what might have been In a temperate zone with patches of green.


Patches of green in a temperate zone,
In apparition, refresh closed eyes long
Scalded by winter light. The permafrost
Unlocks cool springs to water the acres,
Transfiguring ice to an Iowa lush
With its crops—or fountains in cities
Announce a flowering close by the streets.
I would walk where the buildings repeat
Wild gestures of upward reach, or trees
Contend for their swaths of blue. In the hush
They hold between night and day they might shelter
Us, who have failed here once, self-exiled and lost,
And who watch for the cleft where we might belong
Through a pane of ice, in fever, alone.


In fever alone might this pane of ice
Melt back from my face, the chill recede,
And the scent of grass be paradise.
Illness heats; I can hear the buried seeds
Burst, scattering feelers in loosened ground
And probing their stems through the crust above
To fix on the sun. New leaves conduct their green
Transactions as fruitage begins. Soon cloves
Of oranges circle their hubs in orchards
Or bowls, or heaped in crates under awnings
Painted in tropical stripes. Even in yards
Where undergrowth jabs, bright globes still balance
The riot beneath—the tangled Teachings
We chose to leave for a polished expanse.


We chose to leave for this polished expanse
And must lunge out of visions to shivering
Dogs on sloping plains where glaciers advance.
Where we stop to drink the ice worm swims
In its cut-glass bowl; when we march again
Our frozen breaths—small clouds of needles—
Glitter in air and disperse. The pains
We have husbanded now appear useless,
Mere crowns of frost. As even the iciest
Beauty goes, and truth begins to encroach,
We try and fail to read the story as comic.
Absolute zero, the point at which we must
Stop and vanish, attends our approach
As we step toward the perfect Antarctic.


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