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Prospector

Susan Ioannou
First appeared in Myth Weavers, Hamilton: Serengeti Press, 2007.
Reprinted from:   Looking Through Stone: Poems about the Earth. Sudbury: Your Scrivener Press, 2007.


(for Eira Thomas)*

Who bush-planes into the Barrens
300 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife
where even in sunshine the mercury plummets
to 40 degrees below,
skin freezes in 30 seconds,
and snow whites out all traces to navigate by?

Who wants to trek up the winter road
to hunker ashiver in wind-yanked tents,
where eating means reaching outside the flap
to hacksaw another steak from the ice,
or in summer, to toil for a trout
by casting along a shore
where grizzlies and wolves prowl, sniffing?
—All this, to search leftover volcanics
for crumbly, dark kimberlite.

Picture a blue-eyed geologist,
tall and slender, who at a mere 24
one May morning, strides over the hills
to the edge of a shallow stream,
slings the pack off her back,
and with a rock hammer
picks a chunk loose from the bed
in search of that mineral signature
magnetics had blipped to a distant screen.
She holds up and squints at a shard
dark and unevenly grained.
She believes.

—Enough to keep charting
for month after month
a course farther west
and by spring, to walk upon water
still frozen at Lac de Gras,
to fly in a crew
and round the clock drill into ice,
pulling up core lengths into the shack
where one that she crushes with her rock hammer,
sloshes with water, and floats the lighter bits off
reveals in the heavies on bottom
pyrope deep-purple garnets,
the hint that diamonds are hidden,
as later a lab in Toronto reports
—20 micros, in fact.

Day after day, as the temperature rises,
along the lake edge, ice loosens,
tinkling thin vertical shards.
The surface softens and slushes.
Groaning, it sags under tonnes
when she flies in a wider drill.
Over ice where the bit rams through,
black smoke billows up.
Water begins to pool.
It rises above her ankles.
It slaps up the walls of the shack.
It floods past the drill crew's knees.

That flash along shore-open waves?
Soon fog settles in and thickens.
—What helicopter can land?
Still she keeps pushing the roughnecks:
Again! Ram the drill bit down.
A second target, a third
roars through ice,
through granite, through nerves,
through minutes fast melting away.

That night, she changes
the locks to the core-sample tent,
unplugs computers, and cuts the telephone line.
Under her pillow,
pried from a kimberlite length,
grinning, she stashes a 2-carat stunner,
mark of the highest grade cluster
of diamond pipes in the world:
138 million carats.

All because she believed.
For decades, the majors had scoffed,
"Mine diamonds in Canada?—Never!"
until Chuck Fipke, a dogged geologist,
unearthed a studded kimberlite pipe
in the Barrens' Archean rock.
Yet even after the staking rush started,
who listened to a young woman,
or risked their own bottom line
to drill that one extra hole
and gamble that under thin ice
the biggest of mining dreams sparkled.

* The discovery by Eira Thomas of pipe A154S eventually became part of the Diavik Mine, while Chuck Fipke's exploration led to the Ekati Diamond Mine, both located in Canada's remote Northwest Territories.



Susan Ioannou's works copyright © to the author.


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