Orchestra of Explorers
by Christina Frei



I stood on the steps among the diagonal shadows
cast by the banister, silently saluting the honored guests
as they stumbled in through the driving snow,
clawing the caked sleet from their hoary beards,
scraping ice from their goggles, breathing huge clouds
of smoky breath into the narrow entrance
of our polar station. Amundsen was the first to arrive,
stamping the snow from his boots and blowing
on his painfully frost-bitten hands. He took off
his huge parka and hung it up on the chandelier,
picked up his navigational instruments encased in black,
and padded close to the warm fireplace
in his thick woolen socks. Franklin came next,
looking thin and dour, no doubt from the months
of starvation he’d endured. His eyes were big and full
of suffering, his thin cheeks drawn and wrinkled,
peeling off his dripping woolen hat with blackened
stumps of fingers. He sat on the piano stool to brood
with intensity, over a map of the Northwest passage.
Shackleton thumped loudly with his feet and called out
for some whiskey for his men. He was the jolliest
of the four and also owned the most imposing of all
the instruments, which I now recognized as a cello.
Scott ran in at the last moment, puffing and carrying
a dead seal in his arms, that turned out on closer inspection
to be a violin. From the safety of the kitchen, I watched
them setting up, and listened to the coughs and blowing
of noses, the slurping of hot tea, well infused
with 12-year-old scotch, the grating sounds of bows
being drawn across strings, flute-ways cleared
with loud honks, mutterings, fussings and adjustments.
Before the orchestra could burst into a flood of music
rhapsodizing of ice floe blockages and polar bears laid waste,
flags flown from tall glaciers painstakingly climbed
with ice picks, the ever-present dangers of food shortages
and hidden crevasses, there was a prolonged silence.





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