from In the Antarctic Circle
We cut holes in the ice and sip history out of it. Afterward they weigh us. The scale doesn’t register. They tag our ears and send us back.
All the world floats upward, in other words. Squeaks like a helium balloon.
No loss to us. Our steps are lighter underneath the past. The snow gives less, has less to give.
We try not to lift off when we can. At home, the dome cradles us back into our short, ugly memories. The ancient lies rise and gather blackly at the ceiling.
We can’t help but cower. Our fathers are there somewhere, breathing hard.
Their voices are magnets. Our voices are echoes, kindling fame.
Saturday (there are no days) Hank began crying for a photo album. He wanted colors, the ones we began with, mobiles spinning in a vacuum. I did the clown act but it was only what clowns are, a poor excuse for yesterday. You know how frightful it is to get what you want.
Ebb and flow is the rule on a continent like this. Luckily the entire landscape is stone, fears and wants frozen without hope of reanimation. Our harpoons remain pointed at the sky in case somebody or something flies past. Our feet in the snow, footholes kicked, to hold on to the un-let-go-of-able.
After a while, a fishing line climbs up from the ocean, over the edge of the ice, and takes you by the boot. Waits there for you to move, to see if you’re hooked.
Do you feel that?
You’re supposed to be happy now.
Hank is filled to the brim with neutrinos. We touch metal but sugar-snow still pulls earthly on us, reminding us that something else is out there, alive. Walls of sand. Grinning bearded ghosts pacing like Americans. Flagpoles and boots strew the tundra, spit out by the ice. Long live the light.
Long live the darkness, raining flagpoles and boots. Sad long-haired men pace the sky in Swedish, dip below the dunes and seem for a moment dead. Then their crowns return, same as the bitter snow, and turn to bodies. They are magnetic, wooden, pull us toward them and push us away at once. The echoes of stars penetrate nearly to their bones. They stop at our door and knock. The sound of their padded fists is the sound of a glacier refusing to crumble.
Once we rise we rise quickly, as if a massacre is occurring under our feet. The ground fills the window. Touches us from a distance. Becomes clear in its blankness, certain, no longer needing to lie. Our home’s round walls trace the only shadow against the snow.
The long plane rights itself. For the first time in years, we survive.
We dream. We’ve already been saved. The snow outside is our blanket. In other landscapes, howitzers roll across the land and lock in place, preparing to leave huge furrows. The Antarctic Circle heaves and contracts around us. Its touch is bigger than anyone knew. It strides into outer space. Strokes the stars. Calls them by our names.
He holds the walls apart, his head pressing in, my head emptying of matter.
He pulls my shoulders back to where they belong.
He sets a pot on the stove and sits beside me. Holding our hands in our laps, we watch it freeze.
The sky’s green lights are us, on fire.
Small miracles of domesticity lie flat on the unspotted plain.
The end that can be reached is not the true end.
Our home is your margin.
God bless you.
Dennis James Sweeney's other Antarctica poems appear or are forthcoming in Birdfeast, Gargoyle, Juked, and Greying Ghost Press's pamphlet series. He lives in Corvallis, Oregon.