• Print

What Breaks First

As the iceberg shears off the submarine periscope, the noise
is less groan, more wild animal shriek. “Trust me,” said the captain

piloting toward gunfire to see what the Russians are up to these days.
The sea ice resembles a cracked white lung steadily swelling

then sinking as high tide fades away. Already birds and
barnacles and butterflies are shifting their habitats poleward,

the eelgrass and jellyfish will be fine, but the basements
of coastal cities will begin to flood, an inch at a time.

The polar bear at the zoo makes the child start to cry:
why doesn’t he move? Animals who cannot acclimate

to shifting conditions engender scientific argument
over what breaks first: the heart or the brain. In the heart

of the Arctic, underwater microphones listen for enemy traffic.
The noise made by a million barnacle larvae swimming north

is less hiss or whisper, more betrayed stare. When rations ran low,
polar explorers ate one less biscuit. When biscuits ran out,

the horses were first to be shot. In another sixty thousand years
the mouth of the Beardmore Glacier will spit out their bones.