Monday, 20 October 2008

A Portrait in the Interior

Self-portrait, originally uploaded by Ben Saunders.

Where can you place him - among natural species?
There are precisely none in the hinterland
away from the qualified society of the littoral
- the stink of guano, the litter of penguin feathers,
whole colonies of raucous innocents massacred
or protected at will, flapping their impotent rage
at the skuas' tricks and thievery. You come to
a high plateau, the sink and mirror of Antarctica,
existential terrain - photograph him here.
Each day he grows heavier with the ice,
his breath cracking out and freezing,
a ruff of accumulating crystals around his neck.
His dry-shod fathers approve the struggle
- that company of prim-mouthed adventurers
who watch him now and for old times' sake
avert eyes and memory from natural deeds
that spring upon him like small jealousies:
the faeces he shakes frozen from his trousers,
the liquid in him resisting its natural flow.
How savage his face grows, tanned to leather
by wind and sun: the stinging glare off the ice
will not melt his carapace or loosen
the frosted helmet encompassing him
like a model hemisphere and pole.
His goggles have ghosted a pale moonscape
around his eyes; aqueous humour
admits the passage of light, marks out
the planetary stillness at his centre.
Picture him at the moment of temptation:
there's nothing to draw him back - no memory
served or inflamed by a temperate scene,
no water moving, no shrub to cast its shadow.
He gazes on the linear imperialism
traipsed by sledges and his own layered feet
across the plateau. A scraggy reckoning
is spun out by the pinioned wheel behind;
the summary horizon draws him on,
neutral, mineral, into his own terrrain.

- Chris Orsman

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