Saturday, July 28, 2012

Making Snow Angels 1915


I am Shackleton’s third man,
in a prom dress and gabardine coat,
sunning my black nose and black fingers
on the starboard, all the while 
that Weddell ice creaks closer,
squeaking then lifting us from 
the sloshing water that 
stained my woolen socks
with carrion and seal blood.
At night, while the crewmen 
pen their last love letters
and kiss fading photos of toddlers
and mistresses,
I chew on strips of leather
and keep watch of the horizon
jutted with blood thirsty ice shelves.
I have designs on landfall
and making snow angels,
once this ship finally freezes 
and sinks unimpressively.


Exposition (poem spoilers, turn away if you care not to know why I wrote this poem):   this poem was written for Hannah's Real Toads Challenge, in which she prompted us to write about the icy regions of the world.   About ten months ago I saw a documentary on PBS about Ernest Shackleton's 1915 Antarctic expedition.  Where in his ship got stuck in ice, and then the sea froze around the ship essentially causing it to become land locked.  The crew had to abandon ship, then (basically) crawl to a worthy port for rescue.  When most of the crew was near death, Shackleton and one other guy who wasn't yet dying went on alone over a dangerous mountain, not really sure how to get to their rendezvous point.  After they were rescued, Shackleton told any one who would listen that there was a ghostlike apparition, which he called " my Third Man" who guided the two men to safety.   

So pretty much after watching that, the declaration "I am Shackleton's Third Man" stuck in my brain as a great way to start a poem.   So for this challenge, I wanted to finally do something with it.  Here I have imagined Shackleton's third man as more of a frostbitten siren who instead of luring men from a far she draws them to land by inhabiting their own ship.  


15 comments:

  1. When I saw your name on the list, I knew that something brilliantly unexpected was waiting to be read (I pounce on your poems like a greedy dog) and I was right.
    You have an incredible talent for manipulating POV, getting under the skin of a subject, but also showing a gritty reality within the imaginative premise.
    I love that your frostbitten siren is leather-chewing, dead-nosed and fingered, stained with blood and terror, yet infallible: waiting for the worst to happen so she can get down to business.

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    1. thanks Kerry! I am glad you liked the end result. The poem feels a little unsettled to me, as if it should be epically long, but then I read it and shrug and think "Yeah, I kind of said everything I wanted to say."

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  2. Oh, this is very clever from the 'siren's third man POV. I also love how her nose and fingers and black from frost bite. I had imagined that it would be Shackleton himself or one of his team mates who was narrating. Loved the image of them making snow Angels, albeit dead ones. The ice cold was felt all through this. The despair and then at the end, the hope once rescued. I've seen this story as a documentary and photographs etc but, never knew there was a 'third man'
    Great read, thank you.

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  3. You have really informed your reader with this one, and done so with poetic grace. I quite enjoyed reading both the poem and the explanatory piece.

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  4. Yes!!!! LOVE your point of view, Izzy!!! Simply astounding and I am so thrilled that this prompt and led you to use this line that has been lingering with you!!!

    Brilliant poem...I agree with Kerry and I love the story behind it!! Well done!

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    1. and thank you, Hannah, for your prompt was the final kick in my ass to write the poem that had been festering for months.

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  5. This is wonderful, Izzy. I wanted to do something similar, but I couldn't get it to work. You've done a great job of Shackleton's third man.
    I didn't see the PBS documentary about Shackleton, but my brother's friend Adrian Raeside wrote a book about his grandfather's experiences in Antarctica, which renewed my interest in the area.
    K

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  6. This is magnificent. It is always so amazing when a line rolls around in your head and you are presented the perfect opportunity to use it.

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  7. WOW! This is wonderful work on so many levels.....the poem itself, the point of view, and the interesting notes after. I didnt know about "the third man" either......I watched a harrowing movie once whose name escapes me (Eight? Eight Degrees?) about a ship stuck in the ice - a helicopter came to lift the men off but couldnt take the huskies whom they left CHAINED UP in the ice and snow. True story. And what the dogs went through after they were abandoned. Only a couple of them survived. One of the men went back in a year and got the last two alive. It about killed me to watch it.

    This is a fantastic write. I am so enjoying the different takes on this prompt everyone has....isnt it a GREAT prompt?

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  8. Damn, girl. Get out.

    Look, we are escapees from the same orphanage, or something. Here you've written on one of my very favorite subjects, polar exploration back in the day. I checked my comments and see that you missed my poem on Robert Falcon Scott:

    http://fireblossom-wordgarden.blogspot.com/2012/06/lunch.html

    You might enjoy it. Anyway, your first stanza begins and ends so magnificently. A prom dress and gabardine coat? Who comes up with stuff like that? You. And the sloshing/socks/seal blood lines are excellent excellent excellent as well. I can hear it, see it, feel it.

    These missions, they were the moon shots of their day, but some things never change. What I mean is, there is a certain hubris that loses respect for the power of Nature. She doesn't care who your fucking patrons are or what medals you've pinned to your coat. She'll take you down and not blink. You've written that so well in your second stanza. Bravo, woman. This is cold.

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    1. when I read the prompt, old timey arctic exploration was the only way to go.....

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  9. This is beautifully imagined. I love the whole conception of it right to the final two lines. A dramatic way to end. Great!

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  10. "stained my woolen socks
    with carrion and seal blood."

    This vivid rawness and more has me rubbing my fingers and hoping they are still there to feather the wings of snow angels when I my body hits the surface.

    I did not know the history, but I think your words make an impending freeze-in clear.

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  11. I can't believe you spoiled me!!!! Spoilerzzzzz. Anyway.

    I don't even know if you want criticism on this poem you wrote about frozen places, but I'm giving you some anyway.

    So, basically, after this part:

    "all the while
    that Weddell ice creaks closer,
    squeaking then lifting us from
    the sloshing water that
    stained my woolen socks
    with carrion and seal blood."

    I think the poem can end, because the first stanza was just that good. It holds all these powerful things about ice and freezing ocean and soon to be dead sailors, and to me the second stanza reads like an afterthought. Or a partially completed thought compared to all the greatness of the first.

    Okay, so what I really mean to say is that, while I agree that this poem doesn't need to be some drawn-out epic, you could prod that second stanza until the language delivers on that promise of creaking, glacial doom.

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    1. thanks for the critical feedback....I shall consider a rewrite, perhaps condensing the piece into one stanza...I do so like the idea of an epic poem in one stanza. I am glad you enjoyed the first stanza so much. Viva la

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