Antarctic Expedition, 1912

by: William Reichard

Once the ship had been crushed by ice,
they knew they would die. Each night,
as they tried to sleep inside tents fashioned
out of tattered sails, they heard the wooden
vessel cry. High pitched, sometimes;
sometimes, low and rumbling.
That which was never intended to snap
did just that, planks three feet thick
breaking easy in the ice’s grip, like
kindling for a fire they would never build.
It kept them from sleep, the unflagging cold,
the deadly bite of winter’s teeth.
The ship’s scientist had brought along
a camera. A week after they’d eaten
the last of the dogs, he pulled out his cases
of useless instruments and started to record.
No one needed to know the temperature.
No one needed to know the wind’s speed.
It blew through everything—canvas, wood,
walls of ice—it penetrated the skin
like merciless needles, sutured the eyes
shut with tears. With matted hair
and chaffed faces, frost-blackened noses,
they posed. The scientist labeled each negative
with his subjects’ names, then packed
the plates in sturdy wooden frames,
placed them in a hut made from the last of the ship.
Some men posed singly, as if sitting for a portrait.
Some in groups, the ship’s crushed hull
their stark backdrop. They were already ghosts.