Little ’berg in the big city

I find my way to the sublime
just as the absurd attaches itself
to the raw coast: Borne in
on the human pathogen.

There is a cruise ship the size of an iceberg
(or the other way around). There is
a small harbour crammed with both, and
an infant iceberg nuzzled up to a little jetty.

Paid to be very serious about it
the dock workers confer, straddle, strain
with pulleys and packing straps, lever, lift:
‘Woah there, wild wee ice-bronc. Get in behind.’
A cabaret of the Western, in Eastern Greenland
as they try and coax the little berg
into the dark den of a rusty container
with ropes slippin’ and it’s Charlie Chaplin
till finally at noon, they winch
a hidden grin into the hands of whoever
holds the chequebook. Lock it in.

We are ignorant tourists with a right of query:
“On the way to an exhibition” they say.
A museum. A gallery. In London.
Or New York. Or somewhere
where people are a bit stupid
from all the fumes.

Here your lungs burn clean, to breathe.
Here you will die of the beauty
of whales and mountains
And in winter you will die literally
of the cold. But now it is spring
when glaciers drip and everything sprouts petals.
And true, spring lasts longer and longer
each year. Dogs bored and sleds beached.

Take the message if you reach land.
Mime it blue. Swim like
it’s going out of fashion.
Swim ’cause we are running out of ice.

Berg baby goes to the big city.
The captain trills tobacco
the whole way. Hand to hand
the refrigerated mystery, to be
star of the opening night.
I imagine pronged women
that teeter and sparkle. Red wine.
Very small food.
While between velvet ropes, one broken tooth
from the mouth of Tassiilaq
melts on the mirrored floor. Flaw?
Even here
a comedy of (t)errors.

I made art of an iceberg, too. In my camera caught
a fisherman with one foot off the edge
of shore. Sure? Silhouetted by white
the voiceless mammoth behind
paper thin with distance, blue
with light, with unspent oxygen
He breathes just once a millennium
and is now on the slow

Yes this his kin
keening to the deep toes of the fjord
as a Parisian janitor, lacklustre,
squeezes his brother out of a dirty mop.

Susan Wardell


Susan Wardell is from Dunedin, New Zealand, where she lectures in Social Anthropology at the University of Otago, while raising two small humans and a few potted plants. Her poetry has been published in Landfall, TakaheNot Very Quiet, and Plumwood Mountain.

© 2019