Ashley Keyser Ultima Thule

The craft’s sussing out the object at New Year’s,
objective term for the not-yet-known thing.
MU69: maybe two asteroids, gravity-locked, sixty-nining,

swims in the deep end of Pluto’s demoted sphere
among Kuiper belt comets and ices, and newly
nicknamed for what’s furthest-than, Ultima Thule.

Thule—founded by armchair buccaneers
who mixed it up with Orkney, Smøla, Iceland, Ireland.
Sea pigs, lobsters, orcas with fangs beset the island

plotted variously on their fudged, phantasmagoric atlases,
home to millet-eaters on fields viscous as jellyfish,
or to riders painted blue, brandishing scythes.

Its orchards flourished in midnight sun or lightless
on the world’s roof. Its giants reproduced like flowers.
Third eyes blinked between their golden brows.

Mystics traced a homeland, fugitive as Atlantis,
to find their origin: wind draining forefathers of melanin,
eyes arctic blue, blue blood crazing the skin,

while the Thule Society nursed a fairytale descent,
all swearing to lineage free of Jewish or colored blood,
same for their wives and hamhock-pink-cheeked brood.

Far north, a woman reposed with her dog and a tent,
glacier-bound, where a careless hand had flung them.
Her head sawed off, she didn’t look like a woman,

but bathed in snow glare and green flame, locals fluent
in metaphor called her curves female, called the unruly
coast for a heart, Umanaq—re-christened Thule

by whites, for whom the meteorites looked like meteorites
and the people wrapped in seal hide, like children.
And yet they make for useful instruments, wrote the American,

strapping, irascible Robert Peary. His appetites
included Inuit women and the Pole, and he carved P
in the woman’s bulbous side, a cipher of his property.

He took her to New York, though wilder flights
rocked her through dark energy and dust to Earth.
Souvenir of the solar system’s iron afterbirth,

she attests to its inhuman reaches, zero upon zero,
their rings yawning not with emptiness but age.
Ultima won’t mean the last, not enough to gauge

vaster orbits spinning without us, giddier vertigos.
Still museum-goers gawk at rocks—and once, the bones
of Qisuk, a man Peary had coaxed to leave his home

and who soon died of tuberculosis. A century ago,
museum staff buried no one’s casket in lantern-lit secret
to hush up his son (the ritual confused, not quite Inuit)

and dodge PR crises with this New York Eskimo.
Minik was eight. He would spend his short life bestride
city and tundra, at home in neither, curio or child.

Returned as a youth to Greenland without his language
or provisions for the cold, he set off like a flung

bone or fallen star on the expanse of ice alone.
Though his island has now begun

to blush with algae and melt,
something flinty, some

fast, intractable winter
has already frozen

inside the human
race. At least

deep space
may prove

too
great

for
us

to
ruin.


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