Adam Hughes


           Longyearbyen, Norway

i. Thor Knutson, diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer

He looks through the glass, all frosted
with the warmness of his breath, its heatsteam
forming a barrier, temporary, between him
and his family standing stoically
beside the bus. He feels the urge to wave,
but no longer trusts his instincts. So he sits
and stares, wondering if he shouldn't
yell, cry, curse, something. Feeling very much
the Viking warrior onboard a flaming ship.
Only he is alive, for now,
and time although not his friend
at least has the decency to sit next to him
on the cold leather bus seat.

ii. Torbjorn Johannsen, dead at 57 from a sudden heart attack

If only he hadn't ignored the drilling
in his shoulder, the grinding of teeth
in his pectoral muscle. He'd probably still be dead,
but at least he wouldn't have been
such an inconvenience. His body a carrier,
like everyone's, of unseen parasites,
symbiotic viruses, a host for innumerable
phalanxes of potential invaders. The ground
would love to receive him, but the risk
is too great. So off he ships, on board a tanker
bound for Tromsø and its decaying earth.

iii. Magdalena Rjkard, stuffing her pocket with seeds

Her very own seed vault, sneaking off with pockets full
of creation, of life, of potential. Covering her mouth, hiding
the phlegm, away from the rainrock beaches, away
from the blonde nurses with kind faces,
away from death and winter sunsets. They'll find her
somewhere along the northern strand
and, shaking their heads, load her into a box
HANDLE WITH CARE". They'll toss her into a truck
and off to the mainland. Her skull, still
covered with her, will smile
with the deception and the knowledge
that she lived in her homeland for another sixty-seven days.
In the airport she'll just begin to stink.

iv. Osgard the fetus

He didn't cry.
So now he's curled in the bottom
of a trash bag outside the hospital,
awaiting pick up.
Death makes equals
of us all,
and makes no exceptions.
Even the infants
are forbidden to rest here.

v. Hans Torgerson, who passed out drunk on the street corner

The first mistake was the fourth drink.
The second was going outside.
The third, not answering when the man
with double gloved hands shook him.
The fourth, well, that one's easy. Never
get in a stranger's car when you're
unresponsive on Svalbard.
Fortunately for him, he woke inside
the morgue, an hour and a half before
the ship was scheduled to leave.
A fifth drink and he'd be in Norway,
warmer and hungover. Perhaps
some mistakes are opportunities—drunk
and slurred, but opportunities. He'll have plenty more
chances later.

vi. Elves

They say they're real—elves who write
the haunted stones. Unnamed, or once-named,
they simply wanted to stay and now they do,
unmoving, receiving amulets and crosses
and doling out protection on those
too meek to protect themselves. Catch a glimpse,
it's said, and you'll be cursed. Go in the winter,
when nothing can be seen, they say,
and no one will know and the gods
who no one believes in will be appeased.
The tiny trees, the scraps of brush,
the forest of lichen, remain. And tomorrow
we all board our own ships
steered by someone else
and they deposit us wherever they choose.
And we call ourselves captains, masters,
but we can't even write the last chapter—

Adam Hughes is the author of Petrichor (NYQ Books, 2010) and Uttering the Holy (NYQ Books, 2012. His collection Allow the Stars to Catch Me When I Rise is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry. He was born in 1982 in Lancaster, Ohio. He still resides near there on a farm with his wife and daughter, two dogs, four cats, and four horses. Should you google him, he is not the Adam Hughes who draws near-pornographic depictions of female superheroes. He cannot draw.

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