by Katha Pollitt

Page 7

Then I'd like to read the title poem from my book which is called To an Antarctic Traveler, which I wrote for my friend Catherine Bouton who is a reporter, and very intrepid, and she went to Antarctica, which was a place I had always wanted to go to but she's very brave and I'm not, so she got to go. All the things that I represent as happening to her really did. She really did have a mountain named after her, and she's on the map of the world. I just find this so amazing. I thought to myself, "God, that's fame," you know.

Anyway, "To an Antartic Traveler." It's in two parts.

When you return from the country of Refusal,
what will you think of us? Down there. No was final,
it had a glamor: so Pavlova turns,
narcissus-pale and utterly self-consumed,
from the claque, the hothouse roses; so the ice
perfects its own reflection, cold Versailles,
and does not want you, does not want even Scott,
grinding him out of his grave--Splash! off he goes,
into the ocean, comical, Edwardian,
a valentine thrown out. Afternoons
in the pastry shop, coffee and macaroons,
gossip's two-part intricat inventions
meshed in the sugary air like Down and Across
of an endless Sunday puzzle--
what will such small temporizations mean
to you now you've travelled half the world and seen
the ego glinting at the heart of things?
Oh, I'm not worried, I know you'll come back
full of adventures, anecdotes of penguins
and the pilot who let you fly the cargo--but
you'll never be wholly ours. As a green glass bottle
is mouthed and rolled and dragged by the sea until
it forgets its life entirely--wine, flowers, candles,
the castaway's save me meticulously
printed in eleven languages--and now
it rests on the beach-house mantel
opalescent, dumb:
you'll stand at the cocktail party
among the beige plush furniture and abstracts,
and listen politely, puzzled, a foreigner
anxious to respect our customs but not quite
sure of the local dialect, while guests
hold forth on their love of travel--
and all the time you hear
the waves beat on the shore for a million years
go away go away go away
and the hostess fills your glass and offers crackers.

They named a moutain after you down there.
Blank and shining, unclimable,
no different from a hundred nameless others,
it did not change as you called it from the helicopter
it was your name that changed
spinning away from you round and around and around
as children repeat a word
endlessly until at last it comes up pure
nonsense, hilarious. It smashed
and lay, a shattered mirror
smiling meaninglessly up at you from the unmarked snow.

More lasting than bronze is the monument I have raised
boasted Horace, not accurately, and yet
what else would we have him think? Or you,
that day you wrote yourself on the world itself
and as the pilot veered away forever
saw mist drift over your mountain almost immediately
and your name stayed behind
a testament of sorts, a proof of something
though only in the end white chalk
invisibly scribbled on a white tabula rasa.

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