White Out

Aurora Engle-Pratt

 

But memory defeats me.
I sail in on Terror or Erebus expecting
to forge a clear course,
ready to map my past like the Arctic,
only to wind up ice-locked and
unconscious, only to wake up
a decade later a gnawn bone
cannibalized by the dead man beside me.


Memory eats me alive.
Memory guts me,
unravels me, strews me
in the snow. See,
I was mistaken.


Memory isn’t a black thread on a canvas,
a plumb line in the storm.
Memory is white on white,
the red in the back of my eye,
narrative defying.


Slowly, the encampment is swallowed.
If I open my eyes I’ll see the same color
in the air as in the land.
It’s in me, memory, the white-out in my lungs,
salt-lashes, bone white, inner ear white,
shell white.
If in the frost white of the past I see a light—
at the last hour, burning a bit of tar against the hulk
of my ship, ice-breaker, massive and immaterial
—I mean to say, it’s a lie;
I am undone again,


like a spoonful of salt in a china mug,
fistful of starpoints, eye jelly, the white
pulp of me lost in the ice.
Look,
at least my death means this land exists.


Someone will chart it behind me,
classify the topography, name that cliff
Desire, that ice floe Childhood. Breathe in
the featureless air and breathe out form.
Eat the flesh of the seals and delineate them by taste:
this one Failure, that one Sweet,
this one the scent of the crepe myrtles
the summer I was fifteen.


I thought I could master memory, map it,
make story-stuff from its raw guts. Instead
memory is a pit within me,
a deep white hole.
Memory formless as the first
crunch of my boots in the snow.
Memory glacial and vast.
Memory so bright
and endless you see colors in the void. Memory
a blank void.


I’m stranded on the ice. The snow is filling in
everywhere now, quicker and quicker,
erasing every mark I’ve made.

 

 

Aurora Engle-Pratt makes poetry and pottery in Baltimore, Maryland. Aurora's writing has appeared in a variety of publications including The Light Ekphrastic and Cosmonauts Avenue.