Going outside

“I am just going outside and may be some time.”
Cpt. Titus Oates

He never was the one
to go in search of sunny beaches.
He never took that Caribbean cruise
at Christmas – would rather
stay at home, confined inside
as cold winds rattled windowpanes
and snow fell on the garden.
He didn’t want a tan, the busyness
of southern market places,
the babble of vacation crowds.
He liked the cold, the quiet, night.

On winter evenings
he embarked on polar explorations.
He set his armchair up below decks
on the Erebus, and watched
John Franklin vanish into myth;
returned, a lone survivor,
from the kitchen with a mug of tea,
to strike out for the North Pole
on the Fram. Thwarted by southern drift
he turned the page, and tried his luck
with Shackleton and the Endurance.

He didn’t change much when
the diagnosis was confirmed:
sat still and watched his garden
slowly fill with snow; took up
a book and trudged with Scott
and Oates across the bleak expanse
of endless ice. Just sometimes,
after dark, suspended in his pool of light
behind the glass, he would wonder
if he’d ever find the courage to go out
– or if he’d rather stay some time.

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