“Whiteout” by William Trowbridge

William Trowbridge


In 1845, Rear Admiral Sir John Franklin and a crew of 124 embarked on a fatal voyage to find the Northwest Passage. On word of their failure and death, England still hailed Franklin as a hero of the Empire.

For fear of succumbing to the ways
of savages, the officers eschewed

blubber for tinned meats that leaked
lead from the seams, refused parkas,

choosing flannel coats that got soaked,
then froze. They turned their backs

on dogsleds and igloos, which also stank
of “going native”—something their store

of Bibles, novels, carpet slippers,
silverware, and button polishers

assuredly did not. Finally, in place
of blubber, protection from the scurvy

that wracked their bones, the still-living—
snow-blind and starving, their ship

bound fast in Arctic ice—gallantly
ate the dead till the last survivor froze.

from Rattle #55, Spring 2017


William Trowbridge: “I was an athlete in high school, planning to go into pre-med in college. The poetry I was forced to read in English class—William Cullen Bryant’s ‘To a Waterfoul’ for example—convinced me that I never wanted to read another poem, much less write one. I was going to be Dr. Kildare, not Percy Dovetonsils. Then, in the last semester of my senior year, I was assigned to read, of all things, the first book of Paradise Lost. I don’t think I understood more than three-quarters of what I read, but the power of the language, even of the parts I didn’t understand, grabbed on and held. I never realized sound and rhythm could work such a spell. I’m glad the lesson stuck.” (website)

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