Marion Starling Boyer
Marion Starling Boyer has four published poetry collections. Her most recent is The Sea Was Never Far (Main Street Rag, 2019). A poem in this collection was selected as “Best of the Net” and another was a finalist in The Atlanta Review’s 2018 International Competition. Boyer’s other books are: The Clock of the Long Now (Mayapple Press); Composing the Rain, winner of Grayson Books 2014 Poetry Chapbook Competition; and Green (Finishing Line Press). Individual poems of Boyer’s have found homes in numerous literary journals, most recently Rabbit, The Tishman Review, Pedestal Magazine, Grey Sparrow Journal, Escape into Life, and Parhelion.
Antarctica, Third Month Adrift, Nine Day Coal Supply
Capt. Joseph Stenhouse, On the Aurora, July 1915
We are eighteen men locked in ice.
In their bunks, the crew are exhausted
by the cold and nerves.
Quiet tonight. Pack ice mutes the waves.
The ship creaks.
I watch the sea ice, bright in moonlight
and the weight of night falls down upon me
like a heap of fishing net.
My old curse has returned, the blackness
that shadows my mind.
Six nights ago, we were very near abandoning
the ship. The men had stuffed their pillowcases
with their possessions.
Floes collided, climbed the backs of other slabs,
steepled into ridges fifteen feet high.
The Aurora was spun like a compass needle
and wedged between two walls of ice.
Her timbers screeched from the pressure.
At the railings we watched in horror as her oak
and iron, five-ton rudder was wrenched to starboard
and smashed to splinters.
By that evening a gale forced the men below.
They ate in silence then went to their bunks.
I told them to keep doors ajar as pressure
was skewing the frames. If they jammed shut
and the ship sunk, they’d be trapped.
I could see the midship was hogging,
the Aurora’s keel bending like a twig.
Ice pinched her bow and stern
the way one might absently press two ends
of a playing card into an arch.
I feared her spine would be broken.
We poured battery acid on the ice
around her stern-post. Futile.
Time and again the ship was concertinaed
until suddenly the bow jerked sidewise
and jacked high on a floe. The keel crashed down
and free. Sprung!
Her prow was still breached but the stern
floated in a patch of water.
The crew wept like girls.
Now, we drift on, spared.
I keep the men busy and the blackness
stowed beneath an untroubled face.
Capt. Joseph Stenhouse, On the Aurora, October 1915
The cook and boatswain slept
in frosted grottoes until the sun
returned to us. Every exhaled
breath froze to their cabin walls.
My own berth has a stove
but there’s a penalty for warmth.
The stoves belch sulfur fumes.
Often, I woke retching and dizzy.
The men had to drag me twice
from my bed, unconscious
but now things are running smoothly
aboard. Work is a tonic.
It was -20º when we dug away
the ice and snow to begin
the back-breaking job of removing
our damaged rudder from the stern.
After two long days we dropped it
onto the floe behind us.
We are busy now rigging a jury rudder,
from salvaged ironwork, timbers,
concrete mixed with boiling water.
Without it we will never manage
to steer back to the Sound. It is torment
to think of the men left at Cape Evans.
My crew is in fine fettle, although
today I nearly took Larkman’s head off
having a go at his bad tooth.
I gave two great heaves without success.
He was near a swoon before I stopped.
Larkman was a brick to bear it.
The men play cricket on the ice.
Evenings, whist and chess.
From the crow’s nest I watch floes split
into lanes, congeal, then divide again.
Vapors rise like smoke from the open water.
It is strangely beautiful in moonlight.