“What Endures and What Does Not?”
Soon this ship will be crushed in a polar storm; below deck,
pages of the Encyclopedia Britannica are read aloud,
shredded and used to light pipes. A century later
the preservationist draining antique food tins
sneaks a taste of raspberry jam. That night he’ll dream
he digs out a tomb on a glacier filled with bay leaves
still fragrant and green. The emperor penguin egg
tucked warm in the explorer’s pocket is delivered intact
to the receptionist desk at the Royal Geographic Society;
the robbery victim nestles a stone between his feet
and rocks back and forth at the bottom of the world.
Enough seal blubber can keep a single lamp burning
for a thousand years; enough knowledge exists to fill
twenty thousand encyclopedia pages. Lost friends
return to us in dreams, but come morning we can’t recall
what they wanted. Snakes, Snell’s law, Snowblind
curl up into hazy tobacco smoke. The amphipods
in test tubes begin to faint from next century’s
simulated heat; falling leaves fill the air of our dreams.
The biologist drills a hole in the sea snail’s shell
and slides a miniature stethoscope inside, listens
for the heartbeat: it’s beating, still beating, still beating.