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
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.