Preserved in Ice

You struggle for breath.

And reach towards the sun

With yellowed fingertips;

Stunted roots

Can no longer drink

The static water that was

Once a stream.

 

Your perfectly preserved husk

Lies buried;

Sheets of glass

Protect your shroud from

Arctic hare and polar fox;

Their footsteps vibrating gently

Against the windowpane of

Your mausoleum.

 

Strangers arrive,

They claim this rock

And give your grave a name:

Helluland.

As if by naming it they have

Called it into existence,

Erasing everything that went before.

 

You barely hear as they hunt the musk ox

Or spin their yarn

Or refine their tools.

Their crude instruments cannot

Trouble the expanse of your

Translucent casket.

There is nothing but

White

Silence.

 

 

A sharp tap

Breaks the ice –

It is no longer their instruments

That are crude.

You feel the sun

Brush across your

Blackened fingertips.

But you no longer reach towards it.

 

Strangers arrive,

They claim this rock

And give your grave a name:

Site 23.

As if by naming it they have

Called it into existence,

Erasing everything that went before.

Ice covered fjord on Baffin Island with Davis Strait in the background (Photo Credit: NASA ICE).

This poem was inspired by recent research which has shown that glacial retreat in the Canadian Arctic has uncovered landscapes that have previously been covered in ice for more than 40,000 years.

Baffin Island, located in northeast Canada and to the south of Greenland, is the fifth-largest island in the world. Most of Baffin Island lies above the Arctic Circle, where the extremely cold temperatures mean that many ancient plants have remained frozen in ice for many thousands of years. As current global warming causes sections of the ice to melt some of these plants are revealed. By sampling these newly exposed plants and dating them using radiocarbon techniques, scientists can pinpoint the last time the sampled area was not under ice.

In this recent study, researchers used such an approach to determine the ages of plants collected at the edges of 30 ice caps on Baffin Island. Once the samples were processed and radiocarbon dated, the results indicated that the ancient plants at all 30 of the sample sites were likely to have been continuously covered by ice for at least the past 40,000 years, until now. When compared against temperature data taken from Baffin Island and Greenland ice cores, these findings also suggest that the region is currently experiencing its warmest century in 115,000 years, and that Baffin Island could become completely ice-free within the next few centuries.

An audio version of this poem can be heard here:

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