Seal Meat, Morning, Noon, & Night
Ross Sea Party, Antarctica, April 1916
Joyce says he’s as happy at Discovery Hut
as a “Piccadilly masher” now the job
is done. Nights, and day after day, it’s dark
as a jackdaw. Wild and Richards hunt seal.
Slowly, the invalids recover, swollen black
gums recede. As blubber burns, smoke clouds
the iced-filled shack. Wind blasts clouds
of snow through gaps in the walls of the hut.
The men huddle in their bags, bodies black
from soot, greasy clothes deteriorating, the job
of washing impossible. Filthy, they lie sealed
in, toss blubber bricks on the stove in the dark
for heat, and doze. They’re entirely in the dark
about their ship, about Shackleton, and the clouds
of German gas drifting over Ypres. A tin with seal
oil, rigged with a string, is the one lamp in the hut.
Mack sometimes struggles up and makes a fair job
of hobbling outside. He tries to shake his black
mood, but abhors their feral state. The sea’s black.
Again, a gale has blown the ice away. With his dark,
scurvy-crippled legs and the relentless cold it’s a job
to remember his life before – gardens, lofty clouds
in a summer sky, the smell of soap. Discovery Hut
is just bearable for Hayward now he has seal
meat to restore himself. Joyce serves up seal
breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Meals of blackened
meat hunks are the high events in the hut.
Cape Evans, thirteen miles off, where the dark
weeks could pass as easily as scudding clouds,
taunts Mack. Watching sea-ice becomes his job.
Ill-tempered, Mack wills the ice to thicken so the job
of sledging across can begin. Joyce tallies the seal
supply, notes wind direction. Worries don’t cloud
his mind; they’re safe and eating. The black
flesh on the Skipper’s legs is improving. The dark
and squalor and stench inside Discovery Hut,
the thick clouds of smoke, are all part of the job
in a primitive polar hut when seal meat is all
there is in the black months of winter’s dark.
Waiting for Deliverance in Antarctica
The Rev. Spencer-Smith, Discovery Hut, March 1915
Had a fine meal when our team first arrived.
Our two dogs, Towser and Gunner, were near dead,
though now, in this barren hut we survive
the weeks on less and less. But, as I’ve said,
we thank our Father for our safe return,
for this shelter and our lives. Amen.
As the weeks have crept by our main concern
is for Mack, Joyce, and Wild, the last men
still out on the ice. Here, the food’s quite low.
Three nights ago I sent up our last flare.
The bright sparks showered down, died on the snow.
But, look now! Glory! The Aurora’s here,
ghosting through the sea fog. We climb aboard
to eat, wash, have a smoke, and are restored.
Cape Evans Hut, Antarctica
The Rev. Spencer-Smith, May 6, 1915
We’ve all the luxuries the ship affords
as we trek the ice back and forth, ship
to Cape Evans hut. We’re keeping records
of scientific studies, making trips
to hunt seals, observe penguins, log weather
data. We play bridge, putter about, chat,
argue in a friendly way together.
We are all in general agreement that
the war can’t still be going on. Richards,
out checking wind instruments this morning,
was stunned to his core when he looked seaward
and saw the Aurora’s snapped her moorings,
left the steel-cabled hawsers frayed like string.
Our ship’s been swept away. With everything.
Gladys Mackintosh, Advent
Bedford, England, December 1915
The garden’s lovely now covered in fresh snow.
You’d laugh to see our Pamela making paper chains.
I found a waxwing. At the window, heard the blow.
In the garden his lovely body shone lying in the snow
by the holly tree. You’d cheer me with a story. I know –
you’d say he was drunk on berries. Oh, to see you again
in the garden, Love. I imagine you’d clown in the snow
to coax a laugh from Pamela making paper chains.
Gladys Mackintosh, In the Garden
Bedford, England, August 1916
These days if the chemist’s boy peddles down the lane
curtains brush back and we all wonder who
will read I regret to inform you. It gives me great pain….
So today when the chemist’s boy turns down our lane
I rise from the roses, shield my brow and strain
to see his face. Perhaps he’s delivering a tonic. It isn’t true.
I can see it’s a telegram the boy’s peddling down the lane.
Every curtain’s brushed back. In a moment we’ll know who.
Marion Starling Boyer is author of four poetry collections: The Sea Was Never Far (Main Street Rag, 2019), The Clock of the Long Now (Mayapple Press, 2009); Composing the Rain, winner Grayson Books 2014 Poetry Chapbook Competition; and Green (Finishing Line Press, 2003). Her poetry has received awards and been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and “Best of the Net.” Boyer teaches writing workshops for Lit Cleveland and Lit Youngstown.