Guest Poem by Jeanette Burney

Jeanette Burney is a lawyer, high school debate coach, and oratorio soloist. She has lived in Texas, San Francisco and Munich. Her poetry has appeared in The Antigonish Review, The Greensboro Review, Poetry Australia, Analecta, Shenandoah, The Dalhousie Review, The Davidson Miscellany, Borderlands, The Minnesota Review, The Trinity Review and Flying South. Five of her poems have won awards, including top prizes in The Academy of American Poets Contest and The Hastings Book Festival in England. This poem is from Acumen 108.

The Discoverer Undiscovers


Explorers take a trip to discover Antarctica.
They take their leave of household chores.
They take boats.
They take cameras.
Then they take white stretches of Antarctic ice
onto film.

Adventurers take trips too,
to get away from home, and see
the nothing that is not out there
and the nothing that is.
Then they leave it there.

But in 1948 the men brought back what they discovered:
sketches, maps, names they gave the land:
Deception Island, Buckle Island, Mount Melbourne.

And a film.

Then they died.


What do we see in the film?

Not Elm Street, even when all the elms are gone.
No balconies and awnings,
or unkempt shrubs
or iron gates festooned with carved rosettes.

Just trees that seem to stand on ice,
and a strip of tents.

What is, without a walk of poured cement.
or chiseled stones laid out in a pattern
or even a footpath pressed hard and tight
by many feet.

Remember your first tree?
There was a tree (was it 10 feet? 30 feet?)
and one fallen beside.

What kind of leaf?
Was it an oak?

In the end, memory gives no leaves, no street names, no maps.
When our own snow wipes out all trace of tents and cooking pots,
there will be only the smell of rich wet earth, maybe,
and a cool breeze.

That is all.