Poets for Science
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Expedition (with lines from the diary of Capt. Rob’t Scott)

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They heaved through scenes of whirling drift
across a cruel soft surface
under broken cumulus
wondering at halo rings
formed around the sun—

at crystals that barely exist
a moment as they lit
on the equipment,

crystals that themselves become
a perfect symbol
of the only possible attitude—
not easy to adopt—
resignation to misfortune.

The crew was trapped—as we all are—between Mounts Hope and Darwin thinking that we must all eventually come to the end of our obstacles, through survival or demise. But in the midst of less than a dog’s chance they take time to collect specimens:

a piece of coal with traced layers of leaves
impressions of thick stems, cellular structures
archeo-cyanthus in limestone—
one cannot imagine, notes the captain,
where the stones had come from…

The men never lightened their load
across the erasure of snow,
the white sheet that covers them still.

But the rough notes
and their dead bodies tell
their tale, just as the collections
we all push toward an imagined future

might sound a sigh
either of resignation
or relief.

(In 2018, this poem was displayed on Ross Island, Antarctica, near Scott’s Hut, Captain Scott’s base of operations during the Terra Nova Expedition of 1910-1913).