Our Intrepid Exploristas

Tasha Matsumoto


Sailing southerly into the austral seas, the Crew’s compasses begin to go awry, stretching for the receding North Pole. Our geologienne begins to build a three-dimensional compass, little golden-wire balls that will allow the compasses to point vertically when the North Pole is directly above them.

Between seacocks and cunt splices, one knows that although the Captainess’s log may still be a thing made from trees, our terminology means something different on the briny deep, that a nautical mile is 1.150779 miles on terra firma. The distance between yesterday and today is longer asea. 

The Crew discovers that one-hour asoil equates to 59 minutes maritime and some 6 seconds. Different, also, is the resting rate for the human heart; the metre of 4/4 time. Our photographess’s camera’s shutter speed is somehow slower, leaving her with pictures like Richter paintings, as blurry as a distant symphony.


Our astronomette begins to record the sky, searching for messages written in occultations by planets, in falling meteorites, in collapsing stars. She fills notebooks with her calculations and charts, her cosmic maps overwritten on the Captainess’s ship’s log, her little stars like asterisks to words whose footnotes the Captainess will never find.

The Crew’s paper supply becomes scarce. Our astronomette begins to draw her charts on the walls of the ship. Our assassinatrix helps our astronomette shoot a celestial map of bulletholes on the ceiling and wall of her bunk, so that she might run her hand against the sky as she falls asleep, a Braille of violence. 

Our astronomette orchestrates living maps, where the Crew acts out planetary motion, orbiting about the ship, with the astronomette as the solar center, choreographing. Our geologienne, photographess, and assassinatrix  align in a syzygy, which, explains our astronomette, might cause a Moonquake, as our assassinatrix lunarly seizures.

 Our Vietnam War re-enactress spins, sylphic, blurring light.


Our photographess and meteorologista watch the waves, whose swells they too often mistake for a cresting whale fin. Our meteorologista discovers that the movements of sonic waves mirror the waves of the sea, which is why, she explains, when the wind chops the waves, we, too, find speech difficult to hear, our voices drowned by keening. 

Our meteorologista observes the darkness brought by the winds, and begins to believe waves, both oceanic and sonic, might also match the wavelengths of light.  Reluctant to waste the paper she would need to chart the skies, she sketches waves of light in the frosty film occluding the portholes, an icescape of cardiograms.

As the bone-white moon slips into the horizon, the glassine sea glows. Like an echo, so much softer than the sound it shadows, the moon’s buttermilk light is merely an echo of the sun’s, which—according to our meteorologista—explains why the light of the moon moves so slowly. 


Our Vietnam War re-enactress believes that through our dreams, we can foretell the past. The re-enactress’s dream journal, shorn of its pages, is now no codex but is written upon her bedsheets, onto which she stitches shorthands of her nightmares, often cutting holes in the sheet to notate desire: lashless eyes, wingless dragonflies, all that did not survive the fire.

Our re-enactress’s white bedsheets, sutured with her dreams, snag the ceramic buttons on her bedclothes, the buttons unthreading the letters from her dreams. The letter “u” is easily unstitched, austral expands into astral, mouths fold into moths. Nightly, her dream-words unfurl and tangle.

Our re-enactress’s sheets, scarred with black threads, knots, holes, chafe her skin, leaving splotches of rash, which she reads like Rorschachs, secondary sources to her texts of dreams.


The Crew feels their blood turn bluer inside their riverine veins, ice-chipped marrow. They look beyond the constellations the meteorologista has drawn in the latrine mirror, at their reflections. Our doctrice examines the Crew’s faces, and discovers that they appear to be less furrowed, and concludes that the Antarctic air is freezing their cells, preventing—and perhaps reversing—their aging.

The assassinatrix cuts off her own hair, thick as a kelp forest, to weave the Captainess a warmer scarf, flat and silky, like a moray eel around the Captainess’s throat. The hair in the scarf retains, says the Captainess, memories of the hair’s terrestrial life, ends frayed by a desert heat, the smell of the dirt that clings to a potato.

Our photographess scrapes soot from the kerosene lamps, and in a teacup of water, grinds together the soot with amber shards of shellac. She wraps a thin thread around the tip of a needle, dips it in her sooty ink, as if a wick. Our photographess pricks her needle into the geologienne’s skipping-stone spine and begins a tattoo of salamandrine fires. When finished, the photographess smears the excess lamp soot onto the geologienne’s tattooed back, so the fires look as if they are smoking.


The Captainess dyes the Crew’s drinking water to match the color of the sky. The unheated latrine freezes their urine into strata of ice crystals, the pink of sunset, the ink of evening, the blue of always.

Aft, the photographess begins to collect buckets of ice, out of which she carves new cups for the Crew, chalices, champagne flutes. After each use, they return their cups to the sea, tossing them astern, into the comet-tail wake.

Our assassinatrix watches our photographess sculpt the cups, and begins to sing an aria so high-pitched that it shatters the ice crystals. Our photographess’s hand, cut from shards of broken ice, drips blood, each drop boreing into the ice with its heat.

The photographess runs below deck to use her blood as ink for the spilled-wine portraits on the tablecloth, the blushes of Bordeaux like a red watercolour, pinking and paled.


Our linguistique, fluent in the language of the Minke whale in Scandinavigese, but unfamiliar with the dialect of the Minke in the austral seas, teaches herself the Antarctic Minke’s patois. Constructing a crude phonautograph, she strings taut thread through a trumpet, tied to the bristle of a pig on the mouthpiece, and stretches a piece of yellowed parchment over the trumpet’s horn. She brushes a scroll of paper with the watery soot from oil lamps, and when our linguistique moans her whale songs into the trumpet’s horn, vibrating the parchment, the pig bristle trembles, scratching waves into the lampblacked paper.

She compares the waves of her songs to the sonar recordings of Antarctic whales during expeditions previous, correcting the grammar and pronunciation of her southern dialect.

The astronomette listens, disapproving. Whales sing, she says, to show off the size of their lungs. The aria of the whale, she says, is not a song, but a sculpture: a way to touch space.

One need not describe the cold, the astronomette explains, when the Antarctic winds have already chapped your lips. 


To demonstrate the worthlessness of words, our astronomette begins to speak to the linguistique in a lunguage of lilt and cadence, moans strung without meaning.

Our meteorologista unwraps the bandages on her hand and strums a mandolute made of an oar, a gourd, and metal twine. The photographess slumps her spine, limbs like a gnarled tree’s, pantomiming the bittersweet. The assassinatrix’s shadows scythe the wall. Our geologienne dances as if to disintegrate.

The cabin sways drowsily beneath a sky the color of brain.

Our astronomette breaks the moratoria of morphemes and meanings to explain that like the whales, we, too, speak to reveal the architecture of our insides, through cavity, vessel, and tissue—to do otherwise is to amputate the cœur from discourse. Quiet—osmosis will do the work.


Violent gales choke the ocean, winds that weep with white plumes, ocean sprays swirling and galactic. The Captainess orders the Crew below deck. This wind, she says, is too much air to breathe.

The Captainess believes that one is more likely to be choked by air than from a lack thereof. Air, she says, suffocates sound, which travels four times as faster in water than in air. Air in the atmosphere tugs at our satellites, slowing their orbits, pulling them away from our sky and back to earth. Air, turning forests into fire, iron into rust.


The sea trapping light, the wood of the deck, aglow like honey. Black-and-white dolphins jeté in the surf. A sole white contrail scars the blue sky.

Starboard, the Captainess and our geologienne take turns looking through a pair of binoculars until the sun begins to burn their skin. Our geologienne, who suffers from chronic nostalgia, sometimes mistakes soil for the past, and screams with longing whenever she sights terra firma.

Haunted by the ghosts of the glaciers that once carved our earth, our geologienne believes she sees a mountain crag on the horizon, screaming MISS!, heaving jagged laughter, her breath a cloud of violet vapor in the Antarctic air.

An ice shelf the size of Rhode Island disappears, a frozen mass christened after a dead explorer whose name no one can remember. Only salt remains.  Elsewhere, stalks of tussock grass, stretching.


The Crew anchors off an island shaped like a half moon, and sails their skiff ashore. The sand might be a synonym for childhood if it were not black pebbles of lava. On the black beach, Ralph believes she has found the fossils of baby dinosaurs, but the Crew insists it is merely the skeletons of seals.

The Crew hikes the tundra, in search of a hidden colony about which only the Captainess knows. After climbing a soft hill of frozen yellow moss, they see the corpses of buildings below. They walk through the skeletal village, houses without roofs, refrigerators ajar, dining tables still set. White mannequins, stained with the shadows of their own plastic limbs, peak through debris. Some still wear tatters of clothing, others are charred with the patterns of fabric from clothing that had disintegrated.

The Crew gathers in a crumbling kitchenette, sucking on frozen grapefruit and chewing papery toast, nuked by the bomb, preserved by the cold. 


At night, the Crew sees a thin blue ring of bioluminescent plankton aglow on a distant shoreline. Reminiscent of the blue of runway lights on a tarmac, our photographess forgets that she is not in a plane, but a boat. 

Our linguistique calculates the half-life of radioactive isotopes and compares it to the half-life of a modern day language.

To warn the future generations about the nuclear waste that will outlive the language one uses to describe it, our semioticienne of death attempts to construct a hieroglyphic language that might still be understood millennia from now. With a neon-tipped pen, she writes in memento mori and melted bones. A language to last longer than language.

She considers the keloid scar tearing across her arm, raised like a relief map. How to write in the syntax of a scar?