Marion Starling Boyer



Photography by Camille Seaman

Frostbite, Last Team on the Barrier

Ernest Wild, March 24, 1915

On half rations we headed to safety camp
fifty miles north, day after day, small steps.
By the time we got there I could barely limp
and we were down to crumbs and cocoa.

We set up the tent and I had a bad
night but we managed to go on, me hobbling.
Frostbite was worse but by the end of day
we made the barrier’s edge. We were pretty

well played out so we dumped the sledge
and tent, our sleeping bags and all
then slid down the ice slopes and gimped
into Hut Point where Cope, Hayward,

and Jack fed and thawed us. Cope removed
my port lug and a starboard toe, as both ear
and toe were dead and gone entire.
Likely my looks are greatly improved.

                  
Butchering Seals in the Dark

Hut Point, April 1915

Hayward kneels in blood-blackened snow
and greasy gore of seal carcasses,
warming his hands in the entrails,

and gazes into the Antarctic night.
A green glow ruffles and billows, shifts
in the shine on the ice,

and this otherworldly light
enters Hayward’s mind as music,
far and faint, a melody

Ethel once hummed into his chest
as he held her, folded to him, dancing.
Hayward closes his eyes and sways,

sickened by his blood-matted beard
and hair, the blubber stench, the squalid hut,
by the impassible distance between the hut

and comfort of Cape Evans, between
Antarctica and a way home,
between himself and the man he once was.

The Lay of the Land

Hut Point, April, 1915

Suppose your right hand is Ross Island
just off the southern coast of Antarctica.
In your palm lies Mount Erebus. Its black

smoke roils up, clouds reflect the volcano’s
scarlet core. Imagine now that your fingers
point south to Antarctica’s cold heart.

Your forefinger nudges the Ross Ice Barrier,
a sheet of ice the size of France
you’ve sledged for three full months.

Between your thumb and forefinger
are the treacherous waters of McMurdo Sound
where you believe the Aurora is anchored

but should have come for you by now
with all its comforts: clean bunk, fresh clothes,
soap, coal to heat water, proper food.

Hut Point is the tip of your forefinger, where
you’re hunkered in an eight by fifteen foot section
of a snow-filled storage shack Scott named

Discovery Hut. On the same island, thirteen miles
north, at the meaty base of your thumb
is the Cape Evans hut. The others are there

and near enough to eat and bathe on the ship.
One route to Cape Evans is over steep, iced ground
and blocked by a glacier tongue riddled

with crevasses. Or you might cross the sound
but only after it solidifies, or the ice floes,
and you with them, will be blown out to sea

by katabatic winds roaring down the mountain;
and the ice must be thick enough whales
won’t break and lift it to reach you.

You stare at your filthy hand, blistered, bandaged,
knowing it will be at least another month
before it’s washed in anything other than seal blood.

Gladys Mackintosh
                                     

Bedford, England, April, 1915
                            
Your face comes to me and goes like breath on a mirror.
It’s a milky morning. The baby dozes. We all miss you.
Our chiffchaff s have returned, such cheery singers.
Your face comes to me and goes like breath on a mirror.
She’s such a good baby. I so wish you could see her
sleeping now, or hear her laugh and coo.
Your face comes to me and goes like breath on a mirror.
It’s a milky morning. The baby dozes. Where are you?
      
Here, the blackthorns are blooming their clouds of white.
The sun’s thin but it’s spring again, darling.
Little Pamela hugs daffodils, clutching them tight
and the blackthorns are blooming. Clouds of white
drift in a bluebell sky. I wish I could write
to tell you the warblers are warbling
and the blackthorns are blooming their clouds of white.
The sun’s thin but it’s spring again, darling.

Antarctica Speaks of the Pack Ice

Their territory is a gauzy netherworld
of sea smoke, of black water. Their credo
is freedom. Numberless drifters, the floes

and growlers cruise the decaying fringes
jockeying for position. They collide,
rupture, resuture. Cold thugs, the pack

encircles outsiders and carries them off
or crushes them. My winds are strong
and can drive the pack away, but needles

of skeletal ice always skulk back and bond.
The ice hardens to grease ice and once again
ice initiates ice into the pack.

Marion Starling Boyer is author of four poetry collections. Her most recent is The Sea Was Never Far (Main Street Rag, 2019) and poems from this book were selected as “Best of the Net” and one was a finalist for The Atlanta Review’s 2018 International Competition. Her other books are The Clock of the Long Now, Composing the Rain, and Green. Boyer recently moved from Kalamazoo, Michigan to northeastern Ohio and currently teaches writing workshop for Lit Cleveland and Lit Youngstown.

Project Description: These poems are from a full length manuscript about the efforts of the Ross Sea Party tasked with laying the supply depots for Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-1917. Antarctica’s voice occasionally plays a counterpoint to their story.

Marion Starling Boyer’s Website

Marion Boyer at Pedestal

Marion Boyer on The Sea Was Never Far at Poetry Matters (Interview & Review)

Marion Boyer at The Ekphrastic Review

Aeneas Mackintosh and his baby daughter Pamela

Glass Lantern slide of rescued Shackleton party

Antarctic Poetry

More Art by Camille Seaman