There he was, leaning forwards, knees bent, skiing out of a whirl of snow right into my head, landing there like memory. The background of the photo, on P.13 of a guide to Port Lockroy produced by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust, is grainy black and white; the other photographs on the page are in colour, one of them showing his black skis leaning in the base porch, where they are now.
Black ‘Head’ skis, Port Lockroy
I remember these skis – how long they felt when I was allowed to stand on them – and recall a day, preceding this photograph for me, but still to come for my father, when he could slip into his old life, put a rucksack on his back, and, freed by an unusually heavy fall of snow from the limitations of sagging fences, ski over their tops, out of a snowbound valley, across the hills to Lerwick to bring us home the food we could not otherwise buy.
So often in this project I have felt as though I have been inhabiting someone else’s memory – reading letters, looking at photographs, visiting the Antarctic on the back of other people’s words, an invisible observer in a past I didn’t know myself. Time as we live through it is linear. In the mind, however, in memory and imagination, time is fluid, layered, permeable; a shape-shifter.
The sequence of poems which will follow this post start in Base A, the first permanent base to be established on the Antarctic Peninsula.
BAS-011 Peso at Lockroy
It is winter of 1959, and there are only five men living in the hut. The ship has left, and there is only limited contact with the outside world, thousands of miles away.
Base A (Lockroy)
The blizzard sounds on glass
like streaming sand, a spitting rage
which rushes round
hits the ground
Inside, he's hunkered down and tuning in.
As if to coax
a signal from the needle's flicker,
his fingers turn.