Matthew Henson’s Penultimate Expedition
Before Discovering the North Pole
Eating her did not feel immoral.
Inside our efforts to maintain
our lives, our affection
had remained consistent.
On every occasion, whenever a man ran
or died (which they did—often)
she would stand and howl
at the winds, the atrocious boulders
heaving through the air all around us.
Even as we watched yet another friend fall—
struck in the head—she would stand
between my knees and hiss and growl
at the burning red clouds,
the white electric water.
And now we were in a dreadful condition,
beginning to turn mad, but I know
if I had died first, she’d have stood over me
and never considered what I began to consider
daily. Runt and cur, she outlived the whole crew—
all of them: beasts and men. And then finally, when,
for over a week, we had not seen one bear
or seal or even a blade of something beige
(and there was nothing left of my clothes
we could eat and still survive) one completely
sunless morning, when the pale, clear seal
oil had diminished into a single flame, she merely sat still
beneath my blade and did not flinch, but
looked up—into me—the way a mother
sometimes steals a secret glance into her child:
resigned to its preposterous morality.