Two Poems

David Wheatley

The Antarctic Poetry School

Historically, the absence
of even one writer

has been the least
of the Antarctic School’s worries.

Is its hallmark cool tone
sustainable in today’s climate?

I suspect not, though
the Old Antarctic

for ‘burning zeal’ is ‘thin ice,
beware’ and ‘splash, ha ha’.

Most traditional verse forms
are too complex to have been ever attempted.

Prizes are often awarded
but their recipients seldom informed.

Resentment of the more glamorous
South Georgia School runs high.

Poems break off daily and float
in the general direction of Chile.

Solitaries are demagogues
and demagogues solitaries.

Annual poetry sales, it must
be said, never dip, not a unit.

Penguins are rarely mentioned
for fear of obviousness

though the albatross, where encountered,
is a symbol for penguins,

and the elephant seal
a symbol for the albatross.

The local note
is especially prized

on condition
that nobody strike it.

Another glacier
suicide

goes off to the most
wonderful splash.

Do you have this typeface
in white, please?

There is, between all
local dialects,

one word for snow
and that word is ‘snow’.

On Tory Island

Starting from the end of the world –
a dead crab rattles its quayside pot
in the wind and my stomach
declines the trip, stays put
on the pier while its contents slosh
in a plastic bag. The wind stops
for a moment and we all fall down.

Owing to the painter’s eschewal
of perspective the island you are
bound for will now topple off
the edge of the sky. You are sailing
to and not from the mainland.
All islands are mainlands. This
is the world and all other corners its ends.

Knots of islanders stream from
the graveyard to East Town and West Town –
the infinite riches of if not one thing
the other – each soul one peg the more
to stop the place blowing away
with the trees (there are no trees
on the island) and the lighthouse beams,

blown out to sea and snapped at
by Balor’s teeth where the island runs out.
Lighthouse beam, then dash,
dark, stop and wait: how it was
before streetlights, getting back
from the pub: beam, dash, dark, stop,
wait in the Atlantic-wide blackout.

The island disappears round me
in mist, the pier water is transparent
black. Believe with the harbour’s
Tau cross in a faith long cancelled,
granting you nothing: miss the last boat
and look back on a cancelled world through
the one bleary eye in the back of your head.