Ponting’s genius was in his cruel portraits
of heroes on their improbable returns.
Emaciated bodies invisible inside the ice armour
of clothes unchanged for many months.
Hollow eyes, blank, bleak, utterly spent;
dirty desperate faces that have looked straight at death
and now gaze without flinching upon the camera.
What is this few more minutes of relief denied, delayed,
after endless weeks of scurvied sledging on frostbitten feet.
Never has a photographer been less loved by his subjects
than Ponting, pointing his slow Edwardian shutter
at men on the verge of respite,
men looking over his shoulder towards warmth and safety,
already smelling the cocoa and toast of their fantasies.
Men still to be cut out of frozen solid garments
whose health will never fully recover from the ordeal
they have only just survived.
The death in those heroes’ stares
Credit note: “Ponting’s Genius” won the Wintec open poetry prize in 2010, and is reproduced as a Tuesday Poem by permission of Wintec.
Tim says: Meliors is someone I admire a great deal – not just for such fine poems as these, but for the hard work she puts into her art, for the fantastic results she produces, and for her dedication to her artistic career. She is also a really neat person.
You can find out a lot more about Meliors, her art, and her fascination with Antarctica in my interview with her, which I’m aiming to run on Thursday – as long as I get all the great images she’s sent to accompany the interview sorted out in time!
And just in case any stray cricket fans are wondering … the “Ponting” of this poem is not Ricky Ponting, that gimlet-eyed little Aussie battler from Launceston, but Herbert George Ponting, the photographer who accompanied Robert Falcon Scott’s Terra Nova expedition to Antarctica in 1910-11 – and, as far as I know, no relation of the more recent Ricky.
You can read all the Tuesday Poems on the Tuesday Poem blog – the featured poem is on the centre of the page, and the week’s other poems are linked from the right-hand column.