“What Happens Here” by Susan J. Allspaw

Susan J. Allspaw


Off the stern, a Chinstrap penguin is lost
and jumps to find a new home on this ship
as it makes its way through the Southern Ocean
to the next mooring. The penguin can’t reach the railing
but attempts, as we all do when we are first learning
to leap. All he is looking for is some comfort,
a few fish, maybe, or perhaps
some entertainment. The winter doesn’t offer much;

ask Scott and his men, budding thespians
dressed in lipstick and skirts just to remind themselves
what a woman looks like. What she might appear to be.
They’ve got the scent all wrong, and not even women
would attempt to shave their legs in this dry and barren darkness.

Everyone here is chasing moorings,
looking for answers as fast as they can come with currents
and brief sunrises. Nobody comes here without questions—
the scientist with his cause and effect, the writer with her
thousand wrong words, the explorer with his challenge.
The continent would sit back on her haunches if she had them,
hairy and smelling like the men in the old huts, white and content,
like a mother with all the secrets hidden in her body,
ready to dole them out one by one.

from Rattle #23, Spring 2005

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