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The Davy Safety Lamp

by Scott Coffel


Though half his nose was lost, as were three toes
and his best friend Axel, Roger was steadfast: he felt
sanguine in the afterglow of their botched ascent,
knowing that Axel would forgive him everything,

even their quarrels in the ice cave over Schopenhauer
whom Axel, much to Roger’s distress, reviled
as a life-negating fraud who foisted his incapacity
on everyone else—a line of reasoning alien to Roger,

for whom the bleakest appraisal of existence
offered much to men addicted to the mountains,
serving as a kind of Davy safety lamp when euphoria,
inversely proportional to the lack of oxygen,

swirled through the mind in fatal concentrations,
as it did that night with Axel, prompting him to trade
the safety of the cave for a glimpse by moonlight
of the bergschrund, that last refuge of the ecstatic.

 

Scott Coffel is the author of Toucans in the Arctic, which won the Poetry Society of America’s 2010 Norma Farber First Book Award. A MacDowell Colony fellow in 2009, his poems have appeared in Salmagundi, Ploughshares, The Paris Review, The American Scholar, The Southern Review, and The Wallace Stevens Journal. He lives in Iowa City, where he directs The University of Iowa’s Hanson Center for Technical Communication. (4/2012)


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