Five Antarctica Poems by Dennis James Sweeney

Poetry: Dennis James Sweeney

70°5’S 65°40′E

In the Antarctic Circle, our main concern is self-husbandry. Cutting dark chops from the dark sky. Identifying lifelong manacles. Feeling for the key.

Suspending paper katydids from the ceiling at just the right angle: the difference between Hank’s breath and the hot, light breeze of the radiator. They trigger different flights. At times you can’t tell whether the wings are held aloft by a string from the ceiling or whether the house is held together by the wings, all through the string.

Other points are moot as yet. We wander out each day. Death is far from the question.

70°45′S 12°30′E

I’m there now—no longer here—and the people treat me like I am one of them.

Their satchels are full. They are always bringing something somewhere. I am jealous, and they do not know how to steal.

Easy: Take what you want and fall on it like a grenade.

See? The stakes are different here in that every ridge, every even barely shining spur is a handle. It goes unsaid between Hank and me that the barest discrepancy owes a full report. Unless it’s toenails. Ten every time we snip. We don’t want to lay our mechanisms so bare.

What I was saying: You can’t treat a diversion too good. So I keep eyes closed.

Dangle my feet from the horizon. Then when night comes it is unquestionably our night.

76°58′S 148°45′W

Hank is a man tangled up in the fibers of what he once believed.

Example: Take a crummy fork and set it on the table instead of leaning it on your dish.

Example: Bear the loneliness longer than you can stand.

Hank sweeps in, underwear on overwear, and prevents your dreams from becoming soiled. Raises the fork from the table before the germs have a chance to grab on. Discourses at length on seclusion, which he says is really just a state of mind.

He fancies himself a man’s man. Waves his sword. Treasures blood on it. Doesn’t know he’s not the only one who doesn’t want to be saved.

75°14′S 45°45′W

Our story is the story of ten-thousand men and a sprinkler system and a sudden freeze. Our story is the story of a cowlick gone to heaven and punished there. Our story halts outside the gates, wraps its fingers around the gates, is arrested for protesting the gates, is bailed out by its rich mother.

Our story grows facial hair, inch by inch. Sirens gaze out from between the strands of our wandering beards.

It is best not to shave, Hank and I agree. Something inside is wailing. That thing can wait. Should wait. It knows us like the cold knows the back of our necks.

69°22′S 139°1′E

Every night we go around the table and give thanks. For the sky, for the snow, for the walls, for the slippers between us and the floor, for death, which will come soon enough, for the penguins, which at least are free—

In the Antarctic Circle thanks is bitterness, flung at what we don’t have.

But tradition dies hard. We swivel our heads to take in the accessories of loneliness and find that even they are sparse. Thanks for white. Thanks for winter. For the hole in the harpoon gun where the harpoon fits.

Thanks for the pits where our eyes go, for where breath travels, for the ducts that allow us to pass daily out of ourselves. Thanks for the rain, which high above us turns to snow. A shy gift lies in it: the certainty of eventual thaw.

Dennis James Sweeney’s Antarctica poems have appeared in Birdfeast, Juked, Quarterly West, Passages North, and Poor Claudia, among others. He is the Small Press Editor of Entropy, the recipient of a Fulbright grant to Malta, and the author of two chapbooks: THREATS and What They Took Away.


Check out HFR’s book catalog, publicity list, submission manager, and buy merch from our Spring store. Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.