Inspiration: Diane Ackerman

Antarctica considers her explorers


Brash as brash ice, they flock to me
though I chill and defy them;
keen as migrating birds they come,
all white like the kelp goose,
and too hot, too frail, too soft-skinned —
to put it bluntly, too animal
for my small eternities of ice.

They come to me by water, by sled,
by sky, over seas heaving like frightened children.
I have seen them rip apart the tight skirts
of the rain, and plunge through ice packs
dense as thunder. Yet they come to me
dressed in the plumage of birds —
orange and red — like birds they nest
among twigs and sing songs,
strut, flap their arms in the cold.

They would sooner bare their souls
than their flesh, so they come to me
swathed in fur, down and leather
they strip from lesser beasts,
and walk through my crystal orchards
quilted in tight posses of life —
needing the world’s full bestiary to face
my staggering chasms, my cascading glare.

They come to me during the longest night
they can find, a night elaborate and deep,
with none of the pastel preambles of twilight,
to lie long in my flesh and fill me with fire.
Bringing their starry eyes, their cunning,
their hot blood, their beautiful fever,
they pour like lava through my limbs,
pour slowly, from one shore to the other,
and leave me shaking with unearthly calm.

They are coming now — I feel their pulse
rapid as wings beating at my fingertips,
taste their salty skin, as they sweat hard
under layers of goose down and silk.
Lusty as waterfalls, tough as granite,
they have come to seize me, chaste and sparkling,
with their small arms and huge hearts,
these madmen who yearn like the sun,
torrid, molten, who mood like chameleons,
these fierce dreamers, these bright blades.

As published in Jaguar of Sweet Laughter: New and Selected Poems by vintage Books, 1993.


One thought on “Inspiration: Diane Ackerman

  1. Annie…this amazing poem still fills me with impeccable dread. Tight. Neat. Folded and fearsome. There has been too much invasion of my own Antarctic heart for me to trust these to come there with any sort of agenda but hungry and cannibalistic.

    Thanks for sharing this poem though. It, as a poem, is staggeringly good, and as usual serves to inspire me to my aspirations as a poetess


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