Yearning for Paradise
April 24th, 2013
For an hour, we went deep into the Arctic
My little girl and I, with stretched eyes
And beating hearts.
We watched, like gods,
Albeit with horror,
All that implacable ice
Dream-blue and impossible,
Melting in torrents
In magnificent cascades
Into a crawling sea below.
We saw, with awe and sorrow
The smaller ice-floes
And caves of sea-ice
Seeming smaller and smaller.
Once a “paradise” – they said it was –
For polar bears and walruses
And seals and caribou, but now
We saw place filled with magnificent
Desolation and hollow yearning.
If animals could show sorrow,
The place would ring with lamentation
From dawn to dawn.
We watched, in some amusement
The ponderous goofiness of
Colonies of placid and fierce walruses
Scudding and thumping along
Into the sea, and bumping into
A brave underwater Arctic
Photographer’s camera, as if to say:
Back off, human, beware!
We watched, grinning and relieved,
As other walruses grunted and snored.
Reminds me of someone, I said
Mischievously to my daughter,
Who whispered back, I know who.
We watched migrating herds
Of majestic and desperate caribou
Fanning out on the landscape below us,
As we gazed from above, stunned
At the vista. We sorrowed when
Mother caribou bore their young mid-route,
For some would not survive the journey
To a coast so far away from theirs.
We watched through slitted eyes,
Frightened that we might see death,
Raw and red, happen right before us,
For a brave mother polar bear
Nursed and trained and cuddled
And cradled her cubs, giving her rich milk
To keep them strong and survive
In a world that was shifting too quickly
For any creature to adapt.
After a seal was killed (off-screen, of course)
And eaten, the polar mother
And her happy cubs were sated, but
All the while, a male polar bear
Sneaked up on them, his nose telling him
That dinner was near, for he too was starved
In that unforgiving climate, which shifted
The ice under his heavy paws,
And denied him seal-meat.
We watched, mouths open,
Pulse quickening, hate and sympathy
For the male bear beating out a
malevolent drum-beat within us,
As the female splashed into the water,
Pushing her cubs ahead of her, away
From the male’s alert nose, swam with them,
Then, desperate and ready to die,
She turned around to face
The bigger, scarier predator,
The male bear, who would have
Killed, for he too, was hungry
And suffered from no maternal
Or paternal instinct. And he turned away!
And with relief washing over
The shores of our terror, we relaxed,
My daughter and I, for we knew that
For a while at least, they were safe,
Before the onrush of the
Next predator, which we,
Happily, did not have to watch
And just before we left the Arctic,
And light flooded back into our world –
The safe world of cars, people on sidewalks
And the smell of popcorn salting the air –
She turned to me and said,
I know the polar bear mother would die
To protect her young, and so would you,
(because I had told her so, in a whisper),
But I don’t want you to die to protect me.
(“Darling, I would LIVE to protect you.”)
And, so, we emerged into the world
As we knew it, with no soaring soundtrack
And no predators of the tooth-and-claw
Persuasion, and no sense of our habitat
Receding into nothingness, into a vast
And rising ocean, an emptiness that
Tilted ever more into horror,
And no strange, unexplained question,
No troubling yearning for the paradise
That we once knew.
Or, perhaps we did.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The End ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~