Pack Ice

by Bernard Henrie
The Waters
Honorable Mention, January 2011
Judged by Kwame Dawes


I will go to the pack ice
and when others return
I will stay behind.

I carry my long knife,
tar black strips of fluke meat
and boots sewn by my wife.

But I have no hunger, no
thirst for the vial of vinegar.
I go pure like the great sea
before the whale boats enter.

In the all day sun
I dry my straight hair
and briefly expose my chest.
I call like a white bear
as my father once called.

My eyes are grown small
as the eyes of fish, but I see
my wife gone over the floes,
not looking back.

My brave dogs strong
as bone hooks.
They pull into white ice.

The great walrus I hunted
and lost in the snow,
death heavy snow with no water
hiding falls in broken places.

I will see you again.
I will wait for the great aurora
to swim in the sky
as sea animals tossed in waves
the color of kerosene and gasoline
spilled on the ice.


Even though I can’t be sure of the accuracy of the arctic details in the poem, what carries powerfully and beautifully is the sense of aloneness, the resignation to the kind of pure emptiness of being alone—a purity akin to the combined desolation and possibility of “the great sea”. The final image, of course, is jarring for the basic way in which what reads like a poem about the natural world (timeless), becomes defined by time, by the contemporary world of “kerosene and gasoline/ spilled on the ice”. Any poem that manages to offer us, “My brave dogs strong/ as bone hooks” is coming from a promising poet. There is something here, despite the occasional imprecision in the poem. --Kwame Dawes

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