Polar Explorer Salomon August Andrée (1897)
O, terrible—silence over ice—
no panting dogs, no hissing runners,
no footfall to break it. Just the crack
and groan of its own awful straining
You warm your hands at the flame
that lifts you. The balloon's silk
is a second sun, unsetting. You're always in its noon,
directly underneath its rippling light.
There's a red smear on one floe, white
bear loping away from the seal's meat.
There's a quick spout in a lead,
the whale's back there, gone.
When blizzards, no ground to fix
your boots to, just directionless swirl
and the compass' doubtful arrow.
Who else has breathed air this clear, crystals of it
hardening briefly in your lungs? Who else has so brightly
risen above the dangerous landscape?
And when you find that you are losing height,
when the earth calls you down to its own slogging,
when it's been decided that you've traveled long enough
as ghosts, silent and apart, you know
some disaster of hunger and cold awaits
—your bones' location to be a mystery for thirty years—
you know your limbs may no longer have the knack
of pulling, of recovery, of resistance, and you're glad anyway
to be mortal again, and stumbling.