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“The sea’s cold,” is all you write from Antarctica, “and we haven’t
seen any penguins yet. Hope we do.” How to analyze
that icy wilderness, with its harsh arc of grandiose majesty,
luminous glaciers otherworldly in the setting sun? The Earth’s
veins will be hidden deep beneath the icicle-crusted ground,
my friend, and the surreal wonders of stepping onto land
after many days at sea, a sensation to conquer. I remember
those waterfalls of ice, pluming into the distant rays
of an underwater moon. Stinging chandeliers, jellyfish,
pulsed deadly, deadly under a human touch, yet beguiling,
a universal gravity drawing the fingers to the stingers.
Translucent lives floated and flowered in a primal ripple-ring of wild nerves,

and plastic floating billowed out like hollow silk. The drift
of marine snow impacts our small universe of steel pens,
the kettle’s familiar whistle and scissors left unpacked
from their case. We journeyed down the wild underwater cavern,
that labyrinth of darkness, a metallic lake, the Southern Ocean,
reflecting and dissolving ourselves as we really were. As if the pulsing of the
boat was gone, and we were no longer tethered to
that rope on which hung life . . . and death.
It’s been a thousand years, feels like it, since I descended
the staircase of ice and snow for the first time.

How, then, back from our trip, has life shrunk to this bare minimum? I gnaw
on my pencils; suddenly the tree in someone else’s garden
flushes red, blood on branches acidly looking up to the sky,
and shifting forms in textures evolve. We walked together in Antarctica,
strolling from the point where universe meets universe
and back, breezes whipping endlessly,
our twin fingerprints glowing transparently
on Antarctic, sacred land. Now you are on another expedition, and we move
on different axes; you acknowledge the penguins
but do not study their very form, shape, soul, like me, tiny wriggling
bulbs of black and white, alighting into the ocean.
At night the color palettes would spring and turn above.

Your final visitation was a quick one, that ghostly gaze
of departure to Antarctica already spreading its languorous translation
all over your pale silken face—imagining zodiacs,
moving images in a world magnified by its sheer, brutal barrenness,
and an escape to endless stars wheeling, even
blizzards pouring down from the polar axis’s hemisphere.

Amber Zhao
Amber Zhao, 10
Brisbane, Australia