Elizabeth Bradfield

The Third Reich Claims Neu Schwabenland — 1939

I.
Ice is not land, so how to claim it? How to mark it owned
without thatched roofs, artifacts from conquered tribes, quaint
yeomen tilling non-native crops on the annexed shore?
The planes Passat and Boreas were catapulted
from the chill deck of the Schwabenland
into the frigid, uncharted air
to fly across the ice (one-fifth
of the continent) and photograph it (11,000 pictures),
to drop their aluminum darts
tattooed with a crooked cross
every twenty miles into what they saw
as if they could fix it, as if
they could pin it fast
and point to it as theirs
here here
anchorages rich with whale oil,
space on the map of the world
now called Neu Schwabenland.
II.
On the shelf: skull of a fox, abalone shell,
bundle of porcupine quills—my mnemonics
of travel, of what I have discovered.
I buy star BD-03-5750 online
and name it Incognita. There’s a certificate
that comes in the mail, a mythology, a map.
Is this dog mine? She has begun,
some nights, to growl, low and defiant,
when I move her from the couch, hers.
If my lover leaves me, what will become
of our photographs and stories,
who will keep the dog?
I claim the lips of Barb Burzynski
that night in the woods on Vashon before
I knew that she was married.

III.
Ice is not land. Is restless. And what was claimed
has moved, is inching toward sea,
has maybe broken off,
calved from the frozen edge, and now trails
its dust and shit and egg shards and abandoned fuel tins,
trails what stories it held
through the ocean’s haloclines
and thermoclines, its pelagic and benthic layers,
scattering them across its sea floor.
Maybe by now one of the marked aluminum darts
tall as an emperor penguin and
dropped dropped dropped
let loose in calculated transects then
stumbled over, perched on, nested under, scoured
by wind, maybe scoured of its markings,
thin and pocked, maybe it is settling
beneath miles of water, is crumpling,
declarative not of claim, but of time.


Elizabeth Bradfield
“The Third Reich Claims Neu Schwabenland — 1939” first appeared in Field, Fall 2004, No. 71.