Perce Blackborow (Shackleton’s 28th crew member)

21 09 2012


By following the cat to the cradling shadows

the Captain had found me in the hull

rolling the ship’s pet to sleep, folding its ears.

He kept his stowaways, fed us routine, purpose:

We were dripping echoes of his youth.

The Endurance smacked the water

for months and I filled a shivery diary

about the cold and the hounds and the quiet men.

I studied how the position of the sun

spoils photographs, scorns navigation. How it lights

thoughts of grey chapels in slate valleys.

Others hated leaving the ship that night,

couldn’t watch their home snap and sink below packed ice

but I was soothed by our lonely landscape.

We fought nature’s silences with stories, filled empty

spaces with football pitches and terraces of tents.

Some waited to be found, I explored

New whites that bordered the emptiness,

discovered how to stew a dog, feed it

to another. Savoured hanging heavy clothes

in the hopeful chill. Learnt how to hide

my limp from the surgeon’s suspicions

by stepping forward first. Always.

Before the panic of flagwavers and photographers

at the quay I shuffled numbly

from the rescue ship. Desperate not to reveal

how much I’d given to the snow. But, in the stark room

the Boss led me to, he made me sit and unwrap

my boots. I surrendered the raw black joints.

He knew the feet would be parted from me,

but that I would not drift from the sea.

I lean on the balustrade each morning,

watch orange seep from the sky

and hear wild noises carried on water.