Elizabeth Bradfield is the author of the poetry collections Once Removed, Approaching Ice, Interpretive Work and the forthcoming Toward Antarctica. Her poems and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, West Branch, Orion and many anthologies. She has been awarded a Stegner Fellowship, the Audre Lorde Prize, and was a finalist for the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets. Founder of the innovative literary/art publication Broadsided Press (broadsidedpress.org), she lives on Cape Cod, works as a naturalist locally as well as on expedition ships in the high latitudes, and teaches creative writing at Brandeis University: www.ebradfield.com.
We say thank you for the poems!
Fourth Occupation, Baffin Island
A slate foundation dug into the slope,
whale bones wedged in cracks, entranceway
sighting toward sea, heather lush from what
was scattered. One bone drilled and carved. Not
marked Thule site on the charts. Not yet forbidden.
I sat in the doorway. A caribou (reindeer, here called reindeer)
skull with only one antler was being buried by beach.
There were ridges to climb, valleys, falls, tundra
but I just wanted to sit, quiet, a falcon
scolding from the ridge, snowmelt gurgling through scree.
The Thule left because it got colder, because
there were no whales to hunt, and then
westerners encroached on their skin-spear boats. Vikings came
for a brief blush. Trappers, route-seekers, the foot
soldiers of politics. And us? This ship of us?
The land has not absorbed that story yet.
The falcon does not know that call.
On What is and Is Not Fated
When Bradford et al dropped hook in Provincetown
Harbor, when the pilgrims found the sweet water of Pilgrim
Spring, the cached seed corn of Corn Hill, they praised
God for what He provided, armor in greenbriared tatters,
muskets crooked along their ribs.
One of the churches in town has become the library.
One holds Sunday service, but each summer night
opens its doors to variety: The Three Marys, drag
Bingo. They’re rebuilding St. Peter’s from fire—
maybe arson—Tyvek thin as hymnal pages fluttering.
In Godthaab Fjord, at the ruined Norse church, MacMillan
saw there were no windows to the thin, cold air, just
aim-slits. The oldest Eskimo remembers: People came here
long ago, rowing in boats without sails. And our people
put skins on their feet to keep from slipping
on the ice, and killed them all.
At St. Mary’s of the Harbor, just a few doors down
from Mac’s old home, I sit on the bulkhead
to watch weather come across the bay. One storm
in a few more inches of sea and the town’s awash.
We’ve seen it coming for years. We make our various
prayers and plans, adapting hope so that when we tell it,
our story might sound like triumph.