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.