Death of an Ice-breaker


With Antarctic creeping
to a delicate midnight

the ever-widening wake
of a low moan
haunts the fragile half-lit greys

in a slow expanse
of unshifting cloud,
and weighty snow
and ice’s millimetre drift,
a frigid advance and press,
as the ice-breaker’s damp
timbers surrender
to a continents insistence.

The unheard cry, a crack
echoing far horizons.
The unmanned ship’s final rattle
where once, at work,
the prow would prod
the permafrost of inured skin,
so now points skywards
like a useless artificial limb

It’s keel of elm
submerged and crushed
by unambitious Nature.

A low moan sears the sky
a solitary ghost in the coldness.

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24 thoughts on “Death of an Ice-breaker

  1. This gave me the same goose-pimple reaction that I experienced when I first heard, on a wind-up record player in a Canadian log cabin, “The Cremation of Sam McGee” read by Robert Service. The hissing fire in the converted oil drum and crackling of the old record added their bit to the ambiance of that dark, lonely night. Maybe Service’s ballad is tongue-in-cheek, weave-the-best-tale-you-can-Mark Twain style writing, and yours serious, deep and emotive, but it lacks nothing except the richness of a Scottish voice reading through cracked grooves on black, circling round and round the disc pin as timber wolves chorus in the background their sad, agonizing songs.

    I loved this. Once again, beautiful work.

  2. again and again amazed by the power of nature…this reminded me how small we are with all our technology and knowledge…great images in this..

  3. can you imagine being with like shackleton on that first voyage…i know it had to seem and alien world as they went into the ice…it has a language too which you evoke well…the grating moans….

    • Went to Oslo with my son Liam a few years back and spent some time aboard Amundsen’s ice-breaker.. The FRAM… and it was the most solid ship I could imagine…. And Shackleton , seein his hut on the Antarctic and comparing it to Scott’s , it was far homier and a place you could actually imagine living in…. Brave men all đŸ™‚

  4. That world of the antarctic does evoke so much desolation, a primeval realm where we get back to ages of nature’s monumental power and earth’s utter disregard for human life. You’ve drawn such a vivid picture of being alone with nature, open tomits crushing forces, reduced to recognize the ultimate inability of the human mind to understand its alieness to all that is human.

  5. The ending is my favorite:

    “It’s keel of elm
    submerged and crushed
    by unambitious Nature.
    A low moan sears the sky
    a solitary ghost in the coldness”

  6. Antarctica, a ghost of herself, is the moaner? I think yes, with the conflict between machine and nature. What forces fight in a landscape that insists on its own integrity even if that could mean its demise! I see the coldness, the solitude, the ache. The power is in your words and images, bravo!

  7. There’s no doubt that world that claims your icebreaker is as alien as the face of the moon–you project this incident really well as pure action, yet it carries a mood of underlying terror–the siren call of a white death some always are seduced into pursuing. Liked it much.

  8. Fantastic! My family is actually waiting for a call to see if we ourselves will be headed North…not quite as far as the world you speak of here…but close enough I’ve been given pause to think if all goes well, I’ll have my own Northern Lights as muse. Fantastic play with the prompt, Poet!

  9. When I was reading this I had thoughts of Scott of the Antarctic. I cannot imagine an ice breaker made of wood and yet, that was what they were back then. I saw a documentary of another team whose ship got stuck in the ice and they all eventually starved to death too.
    Very vivid imagery throughout this. A great read, thanks!

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