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Formerly Worktown Words

John Torrington by Lynn Walton

John died on 1st January 1846 aged 20.He is believed to be the first casualty of Franklin’s lost expedition to find the Northwest Passage He was exhumed in 1984, examined and then reburied.

from a mahogany ice-locked coffin
we stillbirthed you
gentle-with drips of warm water
an amniotic thaw to
withdraw you from your white womb
you took us by surprise
with those milky blue eyes
sleepy-lidded  after all this time
in the endless drag of silence
your lips parted in a started sentence
did you wonder why it took us so long
 
this freeze has been holding you close
a permafrost mother swaddling you in blankets
white as skull and knuckle and rib
threading her finger through your leaded curls
nuzzling the wrap of your yellow vellum skin
singing lullabies that hang like spectres on brittle breath
then splinter in needles snatched by blasting wind
we read your body backwards from its final chapter
 
gather the scatter of clues
contemplate the missing pages
analyse   theorise   avoid your eyes
then close the skin and bones of you
write our names on the cover
return you to the shudder of ice
 
you wear your blackened lungs
like scratched badges
mapping the  breaths you took
from northwest England
to the Northwest Passage
from industrial Manchester
to this Arctic savage
 
John Torrington
Rest in Peace…again

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