Elizabeth Bradfield

Polar Explorer Jules Sébastien César Dumont d’Urville—1840

For a day he sailed through bergs and along a face

of ice.  Land?  The bellies of penguins, when slit,

scattered stones on the deck, a granite morse

that said rock grounded what they passed. Adélie Land,

he called it.  Named not for patron or ruler

or favored lieutenant, but wife.


… an act of justice, a sort of obligation I have fulfilled

to give her, after losing three children, after his years away,

something to perpetuate…my deep and lasting gratitude.


Rock had been his fame before.  Twenty years earlier,

in Greece, a farmer showed him a statue of Venus

so beautiful d’Urville had to have it for France.

Dragging her back to the ship, chased

by bandits, her broken arms were left on the rock

of Melos.  Her body stands still in the Louvre.


What did he lose to Antarctica?  Time.  Men

to dysentery and scurvy.  The boyhood

of his own boy.  I wonder what she thinks of it now,

standing in her climate-controlled room,

the business of hands taken.  I like to think she tracked

his journey and return, heard among visitors

whispers of his end: a train wreck coming home

from a day at Versailles with his wife and son. 


The land, the statue are still where he left them,

and each Austral summer his wife’s other namesake,

a penguin, hunts up stones for its nest,

presents them to a mate, steals more

from other nests and then, until the chick

fledges, guards them as if rightful.