The Dogs of Ushuaia
In search of the exotic I had flown
as far as Ushuaia. I would see
the penguin and the lenga, for I’d grown
accustomed to the birch, the chickadee.
I crossed the Beagle Channel, met the prince
who sails upon the air, immersed my mind
in images I trusted would convince
myself I’d left the commonplace behind:
the Southern Cross at midnight, and the way
the cordillera bears from west to east,
how wind and weather shift throughout the day –
a poet’s fodder, at the very least.
And yet, in retrospect, what I recall
most often when I need the proper noun
is not Olivia or Martial,
but intimations of a downhill town:
a bleak, forsaken prison, silent bogs,
a landscape ravaged by the beaver, frail
impromptu housing, countless scrawny dogs,
a monument to the Malvinas, stale
abandoned factories that bear the brunt
of empty promises, a roadside shrine
to plaster saints, a tourist’s waterfront,
complete with tourists from the steamship line.
Though many miles from home, this land would show
that there is really nothing new, indeed,
under the sun, beyond the point of no
return, beyond the calafate seed,
beyond all hemispheres, beyond each pole,
beyond the boundaries nations call their own.
The dogs of Ushuaia hound my soul
and gnaw upon it, as they would a bone.
Poem by Catherine Chandler, originally published in Umbrella, Summer 2007