Elizabeth Bradfield is the author of the poetry collections Once Removed, Approaching Ice, and Interpretive Work. Her poems and essays have appeared in the New Yorker, West Branch, Orion, and many anthologies. Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Broadsided Press, she lives on Cape Cod, works as a naturalist locally as well as on expedition ships in the high latitudes, and teaches creative writing at Brandeis University and University of Alaska Anchorage’s low-residency MFA program.
In the Patagonian Fjords, Isla Chiloe (First Penguins)
We chug south. Fjord by fjord. In each arm, pen after pen of salmon, fish twice wrong-hemisphered (south, west). Wrong-oceaned. The bus guides all pro I swallow self-righteous, outsider con. Black nets, orange-buoyed & round as the Hockney-blue zoo pool in Seattle where, age child, I must have first seen penguins.
dark channel water
low-floating birds disappear
into mirrored flight
Channel, voyage now with new wildness. Past and present birds both small. The same? These: Humboldt. Glad link to rich, south-sweeping current, large squid, down-looking orange lily, cactus & skunk & pot-rich California county & a moon’s sea—to the man who traveled with and brought back not arrogance but awe.1
1. “nature must be experienced through feeling,” is one of the quotes taken from and touted of Alexander Von Humboldt, who traveled through North and South America and wrote compellingly and generously about his experiences.↩
Straits of Magellan
In strange channels, inside the entrance, snowed peaks across the mouth. Now. Water enlivened by whales. Hard to gauge size. Minkes? Orca? Brydes here? Speak out quick-eager, wrong. L resists the throat jump of first and is right: Sei.
rostrum pillowing silk water before
broken in arch, dive
Sei whales. Rare at home but seen two months ago, end of season, off Stellwagen, mind deep in the straddle of now and next, prepping for this water (then future). Startled to thrum. Shark-pocked skin, specifics of surfacing. A shine to them. This will be the biggest group of whales I’ll get. Ten seis.
breath held, expelled
they rise we surge toward looking
And here, four years future, over three hundred will wash ashore. Biologists will speculate toxic algae swarming warm seas. Which story should survive, be told, retold then?2
2. Stellwagen Bank is a shallow underwater plateau just north and west of Cape Cod. In May of 2015, 337 sei whales washed up on remote beaches in Patagonia between the Gulf of Pena sans Pio XI glacier.↩
Author photograph © Cotton Coulson.