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One Hundred One Sentences for Sir Ernest Shackleton photo

1.   It was always ice. Ice: a word like a shard of glass shived in his ribs. The dark plain he was bound to travel. His paramour, his nightmare, his lost thumb. His vice.

2.   I remember reading the final scenes of Frankenstein—the chase across frozen ground—and feeling, along with my pity for the monster, something like lust, not for the characters and not for the thrill of the chase, but for the long blue reaches of chest-burning cold. For that landscape, like a sheet of bald paper.

3.   Do you know how an iceberg glows, as though Edison were holed up in its bowels inventing a blue electricity? I do.

4.   Ernest Shackleton was born, like so many men, in a country that crushed the unspecial. No. Shackleton was born to a mousy woman and an embittered man, Henry and Henrietta; they negated each other; he was born with something to prove. No, no, no. Don’t be ridiculous. Ernest Shackleton was not born – he was made from steam-bent strips of wood in the hero foundry. Which, if you don’t know what that is, you’re not one.

5.   Survival Tip #35:  Ice chips are not food, whatever anyone says. But they are water. 

6.   His rival. For a man must always have a rival (and a woman too her dear foe). Scott was his name, and it should be noted that he was first Shackleton’s employer. Gave him the bug, so to speak. Sunk that ice lust in his heart’s lake like a frozen rabbit, and was shocked when his apprentice rose to be his nemesis. But Scott took on an expedition like a duty, wearily; he would rather pet his daughter’s hair at the parlor piano. It was Shackleton had the hunger.

7.   Antarctica. So named by a lover of ca-consonants, so named by the patron saint of what-is-the- word-for-to-freeze-to-death?  That word. That saint.

8.   Survival Tip #245: Don’t think. Thought is man’s enemy in an emergency. Move. Hoist heavy objects. Tell people where to go. They may not all make it—don’t think that. Shout, like you mean it, There’s solid land! Maybe you’ll get lucky and survive.

9.   It is very important to part my hair and seal it with wax. I’m like a tube sealed with a rubber stopper. The hair cannot be frozen, then, because in a sense it already is.

10.   While studying for the Second Mate exam, summer 1894, he chanced upon a copy of The World. There interviewed, over a steak at Delmonico’s, was a little-known inventor. “Nikola Tesla has a head that spreads out at the top like a fan. His head is shaped like a wedge,” the journalist wrote. “He lives his life up in the top of his head, where ideas are born, and up there he has plenty of room. He lives inside of himself. His chin is as pointed as an ice-pick.”

11. Let another character describe your character, rather than relying on these mono-vocal points of view which obstruct true intimacy where did you learn to write! 

12. Ernest Shackleton walks into a bar.

Oh god, it’s Shackleton, says someone who was hoping not to see him there.

13. Once I was gregarious. Now I’m paralyzed by the idea that everyone in the room is better than me, and someone says: What do you do? And I say something like, I sail. And they say That’s Nice.

I should ask a question. What’s an interesting question? What question would demonstrate my interest in others and also show that I am interesting, myself? What interests me? A cold sea with icebergs worrying its grey surface. A ship rushing to an unknown end. A race. In desperation I repeat the question: What do you do?  But they have migrated to the hors d’ oeuvres table. I stand there alone for several minutes. People see that I’m alone, but they look away.

14. Emily watches a duck on the pond. A fat white duck, he is molting. He fans his feathers with a sudden flick, shuffles them like a deck of cards. Then, settling down, burrows his orange beak in his side.

Leaves land on the surface of the water, leaves fall singly like idle thoughts. A man in a brown suit goes by on a bicycle. All of London is brown except the last trees yielding to fall, which are red. She gathers up handfuls of leaves. The earth is not a stone; it gives beneath her step. She walks in the footprints of others who visited the muddy bank and waded in the same red leaves. Following, she thinks, is a comfort.

Her husband sits blank as a misprinted paper. Ice on his mind, she is sure. Ice in his dreams. Why did he return? Life had healed around his absence like skin over a cut. 

15. The thin man, Tesla said, relies constantly on the food which he eats at the moment. 

16. This is the opposite of his ordinary life, where cold steals the heat right out of his skin and his breath shrinks to steam, thieving words from his mouth. She is warmth, and he buries his face in her breasts. Here he can thaw, melt down to his elements, become something new. Hers. He wants more than anything to speak.

                I am never again going South! I have thought it all out and my place is at home now.

                He moves to her. He pushes, but something pushes back.

                Her hands, pushing him away. When did she get so strong?

                No, the voice says. Ernest, she says. Please don’t.

His chest contracts, like a man ducking the flap onto the Arctic floor, sucking knives of air. It’s too late. She left while he was gone. And there it is, where it has always been, like a hole in his chest, set a little to the left: ice, as far as the eye can see, frozen and black.


image: Tara Wray