Thursday, April 15, 2010

Another Polar Poem

I'm still trying to wrap my brain around the Peary/Cook controversy. At some point research must stop and I must find a way to present this to middle-grade readers. The fact that it's still disputed a hundred years later makes me ask myself: What in the world am I thinking? I need more than a pick ax and a sextant to find my way through the morass! There is still a Peary camp. There's still a Cook camp. And they are still as diametrically opposed to one another as contemporary partisan politics. So, I'm taking a break from them and reading about S. A. Andrée, who tried to float over the North Pole in a hydrogen balloon. He didn't make it either.

Polar Explorer Salomon August Andrée (1897)

by Elizabeth Bradfield

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
rising up.

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.


  1. I think this is my first visit to your blog -- love your poem choices. I feel for you, with your summer deadline above you like a giant balloon, forcing you to grapple with the Peary/Cook controversy! Thanks for sharing this poignant poem. It does a great job of placing you in Andree's shoes.

  2. Thanks, Tabatha. I'm glad you stopped by.

  3. I like this poem. What amazing and slightly mad people.

    do you feel you must pick Peary or Cook?

  4. Hi Jeannine. No. I don't think I have to pick a side. In fact, I'm convinced there's enough evidence to support the conclusion that neither of them actually got there. I'm probably over thinking the whole thing. It's only a 4-6 page script! I'd like to present the disagreement itself, but didn't feel like I could without understanding it thoroughly. The best book I've found on the subject is the one I mentioned in an earlier post, Cook and Peary: The Polar Controversy Resolved by Robert Bryce. But it took him 20 years researching the controversy to understand it fully! So do you think that makes us as writers slightly mad, too?