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Gondwana Blues (the rotting sea)

Updated: Mar 24, 2020

Penguin, we squat the coast of extinction

our home, the violence of a rocky shore;

Before the soaring terror-beauty of ice

the exquisite horror of a diving ocean,

under an ecstatic crush of frozen light

our ancient dignity of glacial meditation.

My body bright mantra of candle-blubber

tugs through the soar and into the pour

of feather-thrust dives in mindless voids,

snatching the silvery fire of quick fish

from the southern ocean’s frozen heart;

Where glacial spirits of an eternal snow

whisper survival’s secret in ears of salt

and a pure ivory bone of deeper ocean

rings the long whale-backed horizon,

light in the empty, you tremble to enter.

This timeless circle, this frozen world

now Cracking into splinters of seconds

contaminating the constant egg of day;

My feet can no longer shuffle to the chants

of chaos, the chasming voices of the ice.

Now you and your impossibilities of progress

without the metal creatures at your control:

You waddle in bags of ungainly feathers

waste as dead fish in our tempests of Ice,

and huddle here under limp imperial flags

around disease deposits in black toilet bags.

I sweep with my paddle the West Wind Drift

of deep ocean current, islanding Antarctica,

propelling this planet in the cycles of seasons,

balancing the sea-spread of an ocean’s temper

ringing Antarctic in nurturing hands of ice:

I pause in my paddle in the West Wind Drift

adjusting to the crush of new-broken ice

out-swimming a spill of fatal industry oil,

a warm imbalance invades my downy feathers...

I can out-stare Death in a glare of sea-lion’s eye,

but in the mask of your eyes, penguins multiply,

then die, in the comforts you wear as disguises:

We disappear to depths as you return to the skies.


Gondwana is the name for the ancient continent that joined Australia and Antarctica. Climate change threatens the whole area with devastation.

Climate change is a growing concern for penguins that live in Antarctica—the emperor penguin and the Adelie penguin. These species depend on sea ice for access to food and for places to breed. But the sea ice has been disappearing, and penguin populations along with it. A 2008 WWF study estimated that 50% of the emperor penguins and 75% of the Adelie penguins will likely decline or disappear if global average temperatures rise above pre-industrial levels by just 2 degrees C—a scenario that could be reached in less than 40 years.

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