(poetic interpretation of a scene from Shakleton's journal entry)
At the third pass
they straddle an axe-blade ridge and survey
what lies below--a sweep of ice and snow,
almost perpendicular. It's nearing dusk.
Fog rises again behind them, banners
of it streaming through the pass. The way back
is blotted out, as though it had never
existed. There is no going but go
forward. Shackleton has McNeish's adze;
he hacks steps and the others follow--too
slow. If night overtakes them at this height
they'll freeze. Shackleton stops, considers, looks
at his companions. "We'll have to slide."
The slope below is lost in murky twilight.
It may be torn with rocks, it may empty
over the cliff; they can't tell. "Our chance is
a very small one indeed, but it is
up to us to take it." It has become
their creed: Dare to do what's laid before them
and trust Providence to turn the worst to
best. They coil the rope, sit toboggan-style
on the coils and push off.
Speed slams their hearts
shut, yanks their breath out by its roots and howls
a maelstrom past their ears. They are weightless,
plunging out of the world forever, time
unspooling wildly from its reel...
catches hold, slows, eases to a halt in
a bank of snow. They get up, grope for breath,
pound snow off their shredded clothes and shake hands.