Franz Joseph Glacier


The plan was to go by helicopter
but the rain had cancelled that,
not ordinary rain, thick West Coast stuff
exploding on a raging river road;
I squidged angrily to the tourist shop,
dragged on a yesterday-tourist’s
wet socks, wet hobnailed boots,
rubbery coat and sou’wester hat.

There were four of us.
A couple in their seventies,
a woman on her own
and mid-life crisis me.
The guide, young and cheerful nonetheless
pulled down his pouring cowboy brim
and stretched his stride.

Where he led with ease we struggled after
over ankle-breaking scree and slithering rocks
through raging thigh deep torrents
tugging like molasses at our knees.
In horror we watched an ice cube
as big as a tour coach scrape
its crazy way down the main stream;
then over the rim of a fingernail-ripping rock
saw the gaping mouth of the glacier
black and cavernous disgorging its death cold breath.

Up to the ice flow strode our leader
and chipping tiny footholds in the glass
coaxed us up the metre-a-day moving mountain,
held no quarter for the frail faint-hearted,
hauled us on to a ledge of skidding sky.
Dripping and steaming
we held our corporate breath.

All around the rain curtained the cliffs
with bright white waterfalls of lace,
and over the edge, when we dared to look,
canyons and chasms of cold turquoise crystal
flamed the glacier’s fissured throat.


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