After the strong reader response to our feature in GOQ‘s current print edition on Maurice Hickey in the Antarctic, we thought we’d keep the snowbound theme running just a little longer.
James Walton is a poet who lives and works in the Strzelecki Mountains in South Gippsland. His work has appeared in Eureka Street, Australian Love Poems, The Wonder Book of Poetry, Sudden Presence, the Anthology of short-listed poems in the ACU National Literature Competition, Bluepepper, Australian Poetry, and The Age newspaper.
Now then. No more context’¦this lovely piece speaks for itself.
Mawson you were my hero
holding to an ember in
the stubbed out ends of flinty life;
flickering wraiths pilfering from smother drift
conscious of your will just glowing there.
Did you wake at the barking for the rest of it,
how they circled in love for you,
licks telling all their secrets
a whimpering prayer of cold necessity
in an adoring brush against leg.
Those dust ridden glacial beds
Flinders Ranges by foot, horse and camel,
no call of muzzle in hand beside the fire;
reminding in the unreflecting desert night
the crevasse trap of relentless white.
By injured call from the crystal drop –
Innis gone dogs straining in seeing howling:
sharing the slim feast of skin and bone
no laughter in the cannibal troupe
clowning among ourselves at your distance.
Returns that won’t come ashore.
George, Johnson and Mary too weak,
we carried them in morbid need.
Shot at evening turn of day to dream,
we ate their livers as their souls deflated.
The ‘pluckiest’ one you called me.
Harnessed in a voluntary will
we pulled us three by sastrugi finale,
Mertz gone when he bit his finger off
alone for thirty days to Denison Hut.
The rifle discarded for knife after Haldane,
Christmas soup of Winsome’s bones
‘cracked open with a shovel’.
Should have seen what was coming,
my pertinacious skull boiled whole
Karabatic winds so loud
noiseless in horizontal presence,
soles taped back to feet
no licking clean in six pairs of socks,
tongue taken with voice in the jagged end.
Inhale the mercy of my silence,
breathe the straw of anabiotic prose.
Ascend from near death fall now,
leg first wallow in ironic husky straps
heart sunk in the Aurora’s shimmer departure.
Aladdin’s cave unrecognisable stranger –
rescue team not knowing who was saved.
I would have known your scent,
could have raised the alarm in preconiscient
mind talk of smell as witness.
The last to cherish you,
in my eyes more than a saving grace.
Our journey played on a larger note now,
and inspirational coin series too –
of the heroic age and Erebus still burning.
Image is an unpublished photograph by Maurice Hickey from his recently discovered archive featured in GOQ Volume 1:2 : Tarbrush Hickey in the Frozen South