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Three Poems
Cento from Various Non-Poetic Sources

A signal of danger has arrived in consciousness.
It is a metaphysically pointed arrangement.

The clarity of light is an astronomer’s dream,

Mostly random, a fluke of the heart. Every scale
And spiny fin is neatly articulated. But that is not all:

A single big bird plummets straight down from the sky.

The question is not what you look at, but what you see.
The eye is not innocent, it is already committed.

“Cento from Various Non-Poetic Sources” is made with sentences from Ken Johnson’s “Teaming with Transcendent Life” (New York Times, March 29, 2012); George Makari’s “In the Arcadian Woods” (New York Times, April 16, 2012); John Noble Wilford’s “Amazing Race to the Bottom of the World” (New York Times, December 12, 2011); Henry David Thoreau’s journal (May 6, 1854); and Elizabeth Ironside.

Dogs of Ice

Beginning with an erasure from Amundsen, with a little Cherry-Garrard

What after all is necessary
Will we know it when it’s in our hands

           we started with 52 dogs
           no abnormal strain

Helge, Mylius, Uroa                 in splendid condition
Jimmy Pigg, Bones, Nobby     hardly animal

                                                the eyes the mirror a living soul
                                                joy sorrow gratitude scruples

Not forgetting ambition and desire
Not forgetting the ability to eat one’s own

           Scott and his comrades were their own dogs
           to get the dogs to obey cost us a wet shirt

Odin, Thor, Lurvin
           ravenous dogs devoured 
           whips lashings     ebonite points

           plaintive howls on the march
           I did not would not understand

Thinking about blinding light blue snow
A land by international accord empty of dogs

           we had to chain Rex, Lasse
           in any case we had to reach 82° S

I have pursued my own way my own desires
I did not would not understand

           the whip lost its terrors
           crowded together heads out of the way 

           the body did not matter

There is the body I have held in my hands
Old now, blood moving under my palms

           such endurance to equal
What must be given up 
leaning against my knees tail waving

He returned with eleven dogs
           flogged home             grown fond 
           the dog has not understood his master

Who among us understands what drives us

           the master has not understood his dog

Under my hands blood and breath moving
Eyes a living soul her flesh beloved as any 

           holiday humour ought to have prevailed 

           when we cut him open 
           his chest was one large abscess

I haven’t even understood myself 

Here Be Monsters

We could fall off one
Edge or another. Water

Roils and troubles as if it would

Throw itself over, and glacier
Meets sea by pushing into

Erosion’s demand and response. Fissure

Could swallow a body whole
Then close on itself, sucking

Its tongue. Feel 

The earth’s end old maps 
Elaborate with what’s unknown

But fully imagined, voracious

Tooth and claw
White to the bone. Just beyond

The horizon, right over

There is the trouble
Trying to picture our progress

Straight and flat. It doesn’t matter

If we finish on water
Or land, on ice or the deck of a ship

Taking flight. At the wave’s top

The body hangs weightless
In its turn. It doesn’t matter

As soon as we arrive at any point

We’re headed out the other side,
A place beyond which 

There is no beyond except

In the mind, which is
It turns out the body after all

Where we live, whole-

Hearted. Where surface will not hold
We must shatter.

Katharine Coles’s fifth poetry collection, The Earth Is Not Flat, is forthcoming from Red Hen Press in March 2013. Recent poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Poetry, Seneca Review, Crazyhorse, and Image. In 2010, she traveled to Antarctica on a grant from the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Artists and Writers Program. During 2012–13, she will be on leave from the University of Utah on a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship.