“Shackleton’s Decision” by Faith Shearin

Read by (an emotional) Christy. If the above doesn’t play for you, try clicking this link.


At a certain point he decided they could not afford
the dogs. It was someone’s job to take them one by one
behind a pile of ice and shoot them. I try to imagine
the arctic night which descended and would not lift,

a darkness that clung to their clothes. Some men objected
because the dogs were warmth and love, reminders
of their previous life where they slept in soft beds,
their bellies warm with supper. Dog tails were made

of joy, their bodies were wrapped in a fur of hope.
I had to put the book down when I read about the dogs
walking willingly into death, following orders,
one clutching an old toy between his teeth. They trusted

the men who led them into this white danger,
this barren cold. My God, they pulled the sleds
full of provisions and barked away the Sea Leopards.
Someone was told to kill the dogs because supplies

were running low and the dogs, gathered around
the fire, their tongues wet with kindness, knew
nothing of betrayal; they knew how to sit and come,
how to please, how to bow their heads, how to stay.

“Shackleton’s Decision” by Faith Shearin, from Moving the Piano. © Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 2011.

Related reading: Ernest Shackleton’s biography and Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing.

“What The Dead Don’t Need” by Faith Shearin

No need for shoes, of course, or closets full of empty
dresses. No need for the shade of trees or the approval
of parents and friends. They don’t care about the objects
of this world: a new computer, a house overlooking
the sea. The place they occupy may or may not contain
a window to all they’ve left behind. We, the living, think
of them without knowing who or what they have become.
Ghosts? Dust? Butterflies? Wind? Other mysteries —
puberty, sex, childbirth — are the business of life, and
anyone can tell their story. On the matter of death: only
a closed box and the silence of earth or ashes. When my
daughter was small, my disappearance behind a blanket
or curtain seemed permanent. How could I exist if
I was not visible? When I returned, she was grateful:
laughter and kisses, her hand on the roots of my hair.

“What The Dead Don’t Need” by Faith Shearin, published in The Sun magazine, March 2008.

“Places I Have Heard the Ocean” by Faith Shearin

In a cat’s throat, in a shell I hold
to my ear — though I’m told
this is the sound of my own
blood. I have heard the ocean
in the city: cars against
the beach of our street. Or in
the subway, waiting for a train
that carries me like a current.
In my bed: place of high and low
tide or in my daughter’s skates,
rolling over the sidewalk.
Ocean in the trees when they
fill their heads with wind.
Ocean in the rise and fall:
lungs of everyone I love.

“Places I Have Heard the Ocean” by Faith Shearin, from Moving the Piano. © Stephen F. Austin University Press, 2011.

“Natural Disasters” by Faith Shearin

During natural disasters two enemy animals
will call a truce, so during a hurricane
an owl will share a tree with a mouse
and, during an earthquake, you might find
a mongoose wilted and shivering
beside a snake. The bear will sit down
in a river and ignore the passing salmon
just as the lion will allow the zebra
to walk home without comment.
I love that there are exceptions.
At funerals and weddings, for example,
the aunts who never speak nod
politely to one another. When my mother
was sick even the prickly neighbors
left flowers and cakes at our door.

“Natural Disasters” by Faith Shearin from Telling the Bees. © Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 2015.

“The Name of a Fish” by Faith Shearin

If winter is a house then summer is a window
in the bedroom of that house. Sorrow is a river
behind the house and happiness is the name

of a fish who swims downstream. The unborn child
who plays the fragrant garden is named Mavis:
her red hair is made of future and her sleek feet

are wet with dreams. The cat who naps
in the bedroom has his paws in the sun of summer
and his tail in the moonlight of change. You and I

spend years walking up and down the dusty stairs
of the house. Sometimes we stand in the bedroom
and the cat walks towards us like a message.

Sometimes we pick dandelions from the garden
and watch the white heads blow open
in our hands. We are learning to fish in the river

of sorrow; we are undressing for a swim.

“The Name of a Fish” by Faith Shearin, from The Owl Question. © Utah State University Press, 2002.