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Poetry

Polar Explorer
Carsten Borchgrevink (1895, 1899)

Elizabeth Bradfield

A generally useful hand
on the Norwegian Antarctic,
Borchgrevink sets foot
on Cape Adare. 
                        No guess-work
of pot shards or chipped flint
to confirm this first landing
on the continent.  Log books
and diaries in languages still living
document it. 

                        Four years pass. Borchgrevink
returns, sets up a hut and shed,
stocks it with socks, tins of peas,
tobacco.  He stays the winter
with ten men and 75 dogs.  He dines
on the penguins that, in the course
of their wanderings, arrive.  This

is the sole record we have
of a continent’s first human
habitation. 
                 But what slim hold
history has even here.  Our countable
arrivals set against thunderheads
of krill, beaches cobbled in seals,
the half million birds
in this spot at breeding.

Along the thin walls that held
the men that winter, Adélies have continued
to gather and nest and shit,
raising their young.
                                    And so
the oldest building on Antarctica
is nearly ruined, nearly buried
in guano, nearly overwritten with sound
and stink, with the fertile plenty
of unrecorded lives
going on.

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