Jeffrey Skinner


John called and we met by the turtle fountain, dropped
into woods and ran rapidly the leaf-deckled path. Since we had been
together in the womb it was not always necessary to speak
to know the other's thoughts. We ran for an hour and broke from shade
at the railroad tracks, crossed and entered Blue Dog. Hungry,
John ordered the thick, Bible-black bread, open-faced, egg on top,
over easy. I had the same. All right John I said where have you been

all these years. Well he said as a glaciologist I have to be
where the glaciers are. One project can last years and run right into
the next, if the glacier cooperates. Last Fall out at Siple Dome
we measured the temperature of the ice stream by inserting
thermistor strings into the boreholes and letting them freeze in.
Then waited. We were after the deuterium content. But
equilibration takes time. Waiting is everything, don't you think?

No I said, not everything, and ordered more coffee.
Well said John you should perhaps spend some time in the cryosphere
yourself so you know what the fuck you're talking about. John
I said you're the glaciologist, chill. I thought then that we
may fight, that I would have to kill John, or he would kill me.
Then the waitress came by and I knew by the way he talked to her
he had heard my thoughts, and we paid and left.                                


I know nations must pretend to be people
I know people can't be squeezed into happy alliance

All earthly ice is hexagonal, the six-sided snowflake

I know every time I solve the earth
I leave my mind                      

Ice rivers flow slower at the bottom and edges
Faster and heavier in the center                      

Comes unbelief, after unbelief, decadence      

Near the melting point, the surface contains many dangling broken bonds
Which promote the existence of a liquid-like layer     

I know this, knowing little

And the low friction of many materials on ice: useful for Jurgen's sled
And skiing, and skating
Sintering of snow

I leave my mind


John I'm sorry your father died, and the other one died,
the one you called father.

Men are just fire.

Someone left the light of intelligence on
all night. It's not bright enough
to threaten sleep.

John I'm sorry the earth melts away.


The next day we met again and played pool in the afternoon.
The high ceilings and air conditioning and white walls
made the place breathe around the green felt the balls like atoms
clicked and we drank beer with submerged shots of Bushmills, we smoked
Cheroots with white plastic holders. Mario came in wanting
to challenge anyone to trick-shot Horse, and John said sure, though

I sent hard thoughts to him which he somehow ignored.
John lost but everything was good humored and we kept drinking.
John I asked him later when we were sitting alone
do you imagine a definable point to it all, do you see anything
outside the books we have read and discussed, digested and excreted?
Why are you being such a woman, John said            

and we laughed and left that place for the Quonset Hut,
which at the time was still serving ice cream. After pistachio cones
John looked out over the city conveniently spread before us.
You know I lost everything in that game of Horse.
What do you mean everything. He said,
Everything. Does that include Cindy I asked. Yes, Cindy.                


Ice stream C is flowing East to West.
The surface velocity near our boreholes was measured
along two profiles using repeat GPS positioning.

In stage 3 hypothermia, major organs
fail. Clinical death occurs. Because of decreased
cellular activity, brain death takes longer.                                                                     


Then he came over to help me build a bridge or stairway
over or down the drop-off leading to the creek
and the ridge back up. The slope was sheer, and filled in
with junk cement and rock, meant as a stay against erosion.                          
But how to sink supports deep enough, and angled               

in such jumble. I said John come inside, let's think about this.
We took drinks to the upper room and laid the plans
on the floor beneath the skylight. What if we             
cut all the bamboo growing on your North side, John said
and latticed it through the debris, building up from what was

given us. Then what I asked. Then we can use the iron
from the giant statue of Lenin I bought in Prague
to fashion stairs. My daughter Laura appeared suddenly
and Honey I said, we're busy right now. She was younger than her photo-
graph, and I think a little in love. John smiled, and she vanished.      


I said John, how can we be almost through with this life?                 


John said, Ice
has a unique property, called regelation:
melting of ice under pressure, coupled with adjacent refreezing
of melt-water at lower pressure.

This is the mechanism
by which a loop of wire can be pulled slowly through an ice block
without cutting the block in two.


At work I found a message
from Cindy saying I saw you with John
and thought of us all
in that other time,
sincerely. I thought sincerely
cold, though we had not spoken
in years. As I worked
through the day

I realized how many came to me
not in the realm of school
or words but beyond,
some region where everyone
founders, and I thought
where is my place
of help why do they not come
to help me and then,
ashamed: that I was grown
and the boy returned,
the boy who could never speak up
and so never got enough,
the dead boy.


Zone of ablation: where glacial loss
is greater than gain.

                        I consider language
mistreated these days, asked to explain itself
to justify at the same time it bears
meaning, to own up                

            to creation at the moment of use
only, and only that meaning
                        anyone pours in–

his alone,
another to the receiver.
                                                 And so on.                

Equality of isolation, the fully mirrored present,
zone of wastage.         

Whereas: the ability of math to model reality
                                                            outside interpretation.


                                                Among the moraine                            
often a sticky form of clay–
            called gumbo              

may form spherical shapes
may roll around in the glacial stream
                                                picking up rocks

then known as
                                    Armored till ball

the unaccounted
                        language may take      
                                                              in itself.        


John said I am shipping out of Manhattan, a Swedish
research freighter called the Bergshrund. We're going deep
this time below blue ice, I may not return.                  
John was dropping books over the edge of the pier

into water shrugging its green shoulders at the jostle of tugs.
Not much for recycling are you I said. Everything
recycles if you're patient John said, letting
Marcuse's Negations open its pages and attempt to fly

before he let go. It did not. At some time in the past
I thought, I must have made a mistake, and now
I am living the wrong life. Weren't we born near this
water, I said aloud. But by then I was back, feeding the dogs.


John you are from the sciences, I am from the humanities.

But you are more humane–what we

Call a paradox.

The spine of Long Island is Wisconsin moraine.

Then why are we tempted to kill

Each other?

These waters, he said.

And weren't you born first. Depends on what day

You ask mom.

Her drift of mind. Yes.

It turns out, not everything is possible in America.

In Manhattan, maybe.            

Is it some kind of father thing?

The suspicion our scheduled deaths will be worse.


Our airplane broke through a 2 m snow bridge and fell into a crevasse. The
recovery of the damaged plane took 6 weeks. One engine and two propellers
needed replacement. The crevasse under the plane had been filled in before
work started. The LC-130 was finally winched out of its precarious position.
The BIG X on the image of Ice Stream D marks the place of the accident.


We were talking about women on the balcony during break.
Or, we were talking about language on the quay–
its obstinacy, its plush folds, its undiscovered pockets,

its dead ends. Big sun. A pelican came near
and John grabbed it by the neck and held it under his chair.
It was struggling and biting with its long clacking beak

and John I said that thing is tremendously strong,
you cannot take it home, it's likely to kill us on the drive.
Books and women, we were always talking books and women.


Freezing to death's
slow drift–
stage 3,
childhood returns
white shade, soft opening–

mother oblivion.


Lord bless John's soul
Lord bless the weak
Lord bless the devil's role
Lord bless the words I speak

Lord bless the gray Atlantic
Lord bless shark
Lord bless the fanatic
Lord bless light and dark

Lord bless a woman's body
Lord bless father's eyes
Lord bless Cindy
Lord bless mortal lies           


In his palm a peanut sized, blood-flecked pellet.
Held out to me. What is it John. Take. This is what they

extracted from my right temporal lobe. A bullet?
No, too cold-growing: a crystallization. They were unable

to identify the source. Are you all right. Okay;
my judgment's off. When I sleep, the scar is visible.


I leave my mind.




Parts of the poem—tone, phrase, language, information—were lifted from various sources, including a report by the Caltech Glaciology Group, the writer W. H. Sebald, the poet Tomaz Salamun, and preacher and outsider artist R. A. Miller. At the time of composition I was listening obsessively to Bernard Herrmann's score for Hitchcock's Vertigo.

The character "Mario" is based on my friend Mario Muller, an artist. Here’s one of his beautiful recent shows: [site].

In spite of global warming, it seems to me that crucial parts of our lives are growing colder. And in spite of this I remain hopeful, and grateful to be alive.