Fiction

Lost Diary

Steven Heighton

“From the Lost Diary,” from The Address Book, published by House of Anansi in 2004. 2 Jan. 1912: 87º 20 8 S., 160º 40 53 E.At first the sound was like a raw stroppingof steel on steel although we had littlesuch heavy stuff along. Or one of the menonce more adoze in the traces whimperingin waking nightmare but no it was too loudand instantly repeated and then somebodyhalloed There! a catamaran shadowagainst the low sun hovering, and nowabove us banking sheer and screeching camea gaunt monstrous skua, first animatething we had seen save for one anotherand our lost ponies since starting ontothe ice shelf at the sea two months ago.Half blind, rused by the loomings and the ridgedsnow in spars like candlerock, defilingthrough gin-cold ventricles of ice and backinto eye-stabbing sunlight—if aloneI’d have feared for my own mind not the gull’s.Yet we all did see it. And not so littlefood as a colony of lichen or a lousefor eight hundred miles. How many days’ flightwould that need? It did look starved. S believedsome disturbance in the upper atmospheremust have veered the bird far off range and yetthe high cirrus had sat unconvulsed for days.And here it was not a hundred and fiftymiles from the Pole. Somebody quipped about itbeating us there and the Norwegians toowhile the snow-bellied bird touched down aheadand fluttered always a few yards fartheras we neared and at this, what, this rumouror fledged missive dispatched by the dream worldof warm yearning life to ourselves a briefagony of delight punctured the frozenshell of our shambling fatigue, fear, hunger,frostburn and returned to us our purpose.All agreed the visitation was an auspice.The messenger would see us to the Pole.Yet I wondered still what she was doingso remote from her own skies in that time—not quite an hour—till she flared her wings and rosewith serum-yellow eye unclosing to swerveclose above us in the return direction,diminishing then dipping out of viewas a bead of mercury in the day’s bitterforegone——

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Steven Heighton

Steven Heighton received the Governor General’s Award for Poetry for his 2016 collection The Waking Comes Late. He was the author of many books. His fiction and poetry have appeared in the LRB, Zoetrope, Tin House, Best American Poetry, Best American Mystery Stories and the Walrus.


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