Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

The Labrador Summer

Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

The Labrador Summer

Article excerpt

1833

Above latitude fifty, seasick,

as far north as he'd ever go,

Audubon understood why

they called it the land God gave

to Cain. Unable to sleep or stand,

he rocked in his bunk aboard

the schooner Ripley, as in

the higher branches of a tree,

considering how many ways

the word Labrador defined

a dismal coast, its unforgiving

stone pressing from cliff sides

kept raw by gales, a country

too tough even for sheep.

And the sea itself, tossing

and rolling stones, heaping

the shores with them, piling

them on each other like egg fields

dangerous to cross. He saw how

dirty weather could fool you,

lifting to reveal a fleet of sails

that in his glass turned

snowbanks, though it was June

and butterflies drifted above them

for the moss-kept flowers. Another

change of anchorage and it would feel

like Boston in December, save for

mosquitoes thick as those

in Plaquemines Parish bayous.

From a harbor without a name

he wrote, The bird for this place

must be the blackpoll warbler, its song

like the clicking of pebbles together

five or six times, apt for a land

with no earth, only stone,

and moss you sank through

to the knees or deeper, and evergreens

you tromped through like a giant

because they stood a foot tall. …

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