Pole to Pole

“Others abide our question,"
but there is no abiding here
in this van of eager explorers.
At the start of the age
Victoria rules in dowdy splendor
and there's much to be done,
adventure brought up to date
and both poles beckon,
north and south, for eons
frozen to a fare-thee-well
and remote it seems 
and cold as the moon.

Do you remember Admiral Peary?
So bold to the cold North Pole?
A so-so story of success, it turns out,
shaky on its legs 
and in its transits,
shaky as the tired dogs 
pulling the sleds.
Peary, bundled nose-high,
laying his lines to ultimate north;
maybe and maybe not.
Peary, a slack navigator,
Henson, who was black and not slack,
a crack navigator and translator
scouted ahead alone,
a black man in all that white
left his footprints
and most likely first to the pole;
he never got his due.
In any event, Peary and crew posed
stiff with flags and Henson forgotten
in the glory that followed.

Scott, another chosen priest
of discovery, Royal Navy, 
but no planner;
counting the nuts and bolts,
the ponies and motors to plan
was not his way
and he paid the price,
descending south to his doom.
Made it to the pole
to find Amundsen's flag
and later, forlorn, his tent
and a letter to King Haakon;
"kindly forward this letter,
Captain Scott, if you please."
An ungenerous unnecessary
kick in the pants.

Yes, bow your brow, Scott,
good British buckram,
to the will of Providence 
and do your best to the last
and that's what Gran found;
another tent and three dead men,
Scott "half out of his bagg"
went out of life hard
but now found,
a jaundiced pellucid cadaver
long past struggle
in a desolate canvas tent.

There they lie,
dead as mackerel. 
Parchments indecipherable,
boxes, debris, bodies, a diary,
in a tent bleached with cold
drowning in snow and sunlight,
yes, the lovely sun shining even
over this place of death.

How do these explorers carry on?
Where stems this grim 
tenacious resolve?
This stiff-lipped courage?
To be the first to the poles
for no good reason
to these meaningless nulls,
these nips and peaks
of latitude and longitude?

Long ago, these explorers,
ready for the catch basins
of disaster, thumped off
in their clunky thick ships
to the far north or south 
farther and farther, hulls 
pargeted with ice 
and frogged with frost,
got stuck in the relentless
grip of the frozen sea
one time or another
every which way
crushed by the cold,
abandoned the ships,
trudged forward to doom or fame
struggled back or didn't,
careless about the path home.

In time the great white bear
goes up on the ice
and into the sky;
three-starred Orion shines
and new legends are born,
old dreams raised high to 
awake and provoke the best 
and bravest to action.

That's the way it is and was 
for these intrepid souls,
ready to die to the last man,
to remain frozen corpses
in these vast cold rialtos 
of the two poles,
finials of adventure, 
frozen plaques these heroes,
their honor and fame
remnants of a bolder nobler age,
on its own terms
reaching, always reaching for glory.     


Jack D. Harvey’s poetry has appeared in Scrivener, The Comstock Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Typishly Literary Magazine, The Antioch Review, The Piedmont Poetry Journal and elsewhere. The author has been a Pushcart nominee and over the years has been published in a few anthologies.

The author has been writing poetry since he was sixteen and lives in a small town near Albany, New York. He is retired from doing whatever he was doing before he retired.