It was all so different than he expected.
For years he’d been agnostic; now he meditated.
For years he’d dreamed of being an artist living abroad;
now he reread Baudelaire, Emerson, Bishop.
He’d never considered marriage . . .
Still, a force through green did fuse.
Yes, he wore his pants looser.
No, he didn’t do crosswords in bed.
No, he didn’t file for Social Security.
Yes, he danced alone in the bathroom mirror,
since younger men expected generosity.
Long ago, his thesis had been described as promising,
“with psychological heat and the consuming
will of nature.” Now he thought, “This then is all.”
On the rooftop, in pale flickering moonlight,
he pondered the annihilated earth.
At the pond, half-a-mile across was not
too far to swim because he seemed to be
going toward something. Yes, the love impulse
had frequently revealed itself in terms of conflict;
but this was an old sound, an austere element.
Yes, he’d been no angel and so what . . .
Yes, tiny moths emerged from the hall closet.
Yes, the odor of kombucha made him sick.
Yes, he lay for hours pondering the treetops,
the matriarchal clouds, the moon.
Though his spleen collected melancholy trophies,
his imagination was not impeded.
Copyright © 2022 by Henri Cole. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 5, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.
She paddles and streams
her kayak up Kobuck River.
she passes the salt flats into
the glass water; she skims
for cod and chum, hand over oar,
hand over oar,
ripples tightening the drawstring
on her parka. A taffeta of cold air
hits her cheeks; they are sun-
wind chapped, a sign of Inupiaq women
subsisting for their young families.
In body, in Inuit, she thrives on the bleakest
ecstatic love. Here on her knees,
in her seal skin buoyant boat,
her duties of her village complete,
she knows her place among the caribou
women. She knows her children
with their earphones on,
while playing video games,
will not follow her in the knowledge of ice,
dressing a caribou, preparing dry-fish,
jarring jellies, dip netting hooligans,
purse netting whitefish, tracking
and setting traps for marmot, squirrels,
arctic fox and wolverines. She thinks
of the children, hand over oar;
they will stay at the village, carve
for cleaving water with Inupiat hands.
Copyright © 2022 by dg nanouk okpik. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 1, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.
When an Inuk leaves a round home
and enters into a square house
he gets a headache and gets nervous.
The seal talked to me with sharp eyes in my dream.
Altered, I was able to be with both of you mothers.
Light the seal oil lamp, elder women, as I draw thunder
from the sky at dusk. Water crests on the river sound like beams
touching the surface or a spark crystal in a whiteout.
A flare falls on the edge of the ocean, I shudder at the black dry snow.
Seldom have I thought of rapid growth in years,
you both with heads of hair like whalebone strings,
white, and tenacious. I seldom listen to only one voice
or, to only those standing in a row in the night. They stand up
as rays of sunstrokes just when the night turns to a gleam ripple
on the glass water. Then as the ligature of Inuit light flux and flows
like herds of walrus, passing along the coast, Yes then, but maybe
this is a seal hook of bear claws clipping me to the northern tilt,
pinning me to the cycle of night when the day slows, the wind
shifts to cloud, and the moon shadow grows to sun loops.
It is then I answer the coal seal eyes with throat song,
standing on one strong foot in dance with white gloves.
II Natural World Adoption
I learned to crack mussel shells, to collect moss on rocks,
save strewn caribou hides across malleable tundra,
how to stop my finger joints from cracking in frost,
to dye my hair garnet to fit in, to feel earthquakes,
uprooting soapstone and jade, to count milliseconds
by watching a brook run, to count cracks in an ice floe,
to drink water from a horsetail reed. Now my ball and sockets
rub and roll like hummocks bound and rivet the northern tip
of the Rockies. I read books until my eyes chart points in words
down 4000 miles in desert sounds. My tongue clipped to the brow antler,
the words rubbing sealskin to make thunder then lightning.
I guide the harpoon-line hanging in the singing house with many blessed eggs
for mothers, for children. I stitch you around my eyes, down my chin,
though my altered states to remember it is you who guards me
from long ice needles. Is it you threading the singe on my sealskin,
patching letters tied to ink blood. I am seeing only will-full DNA
tattooed to the snow knife for cutting ice blocks of chins,
perhaps for a house, a shelter, a lean to in a starved storm but,
had I not prayed for this moment, this dissension into fish or birds,
if what I wanted was to make it until the large stocks of dried
musk oxen are gone. Then, I choose sable day and flux night.
III Man's Law
I think of that day 14,156 days ago, when in blackness
we first shared eyes, domed eyes, in Anchorage,
as the place on the old river, as the place where spiders braid,
not where laws stay on one bank of the river.
We are in the upside down world, where the sunless earth
came into cold and then at once turned over to fire light.
Yes, my home where black flint makes arrow-heads,
where slate makes knives for sharpening fingers
on smooth, dark, whetstones, each filed to a perfect 3 inches.
One finger per hand to point like a ruler, to measure words
on paper a foot at a time in concrete, paved increments in proxy's,
in dusk and glare of another steel box.
Mother, I was taken in dark dawn to drink from a whale
bone cup, to use a bird dart to catch willow ptarmigan and grouse,
to smoke a pipe made of willow stick. I used a stone maul
on my underground thoughts of you. I caught bees for you,
placed them in a silent box to dry, for when you dance
in grandfather's ceremonial house. Sometimes, I'd find myself
naming my doll after you, practicing for when I learn to dry northern pike
on alder poles, learn to break their necks below the head
on the first bone of the spine, learn to slit their bellies of blood flesh
like berry juice or boil, their eyes in their head for soup.
Every year or two I prepare to sod my roof, so I can make due another winter.
I make a hole in the ceiling for smoke and prayers to rise together in song.
I remember cleaning smeared smelt off my hooks sharpening them
to catch mirror-back salmon, fins spread, heading the opposite way,
nosing up the river to spawn in eclipse water when the sun moves
around the earth and all days are ebony backwards.
From Effigies: An Anthology of New Indigenous Writing. Copyright © 2009 by dg nanouk okpik. Reprinted with permission of Salt Publishing.
San Antonio, TX, December 1970
It’s nearing the end
of the year and the woman who will be
my mother is pushing
stickpins through the eyes
of sequins and into styrofoam globes
until each coated orb ornaments
the tinseled tree. Her body
is full of the curled question
mark that will soon be
my body. The woman who will be
my grandmother is biding time
at the five and dime stockpiling
supplies to fill my mother’s idle
hands. All along she’s carried
how I’ve known
from early on to position myself
for descent. When I enter
this world, I’ll enter as Hecuba
nearing her end: purpled
and yelping griefbeast,
my mother’s spangled
From Year of the Dog (BOA Editions, 2020) by Deborah Paredez. Copyright © 2020 by Deborah Paredez. Used with permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., boaeditions.org.
A Tuesday, day of Tiw,
god of war, dawns in darkness.
The short holiday day of talking by the fire,
floating on snowshoes among
ancient self-pollarded maples,
visiting, being visited, giving
a rain gauge, receiving red socks,
watching snow buntings nearly over
their heads in snow stab at spirtled bits
of sunflower seeds the chickadees
hold with their feet to a bough
and hack apart, scattering debris
like sloppy butchers, is over.
Irregular life begins. Telephone calls,
Google searches, evasive letters,
complicated arrangements, faxes,
second thoughts, consultations,
e-mails, solemnly given kisses.
From Collected Poems by Galway Kinnell. Copyright © 2017 by The Literary Estate of Galway Kinnell. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.
These kids watching so intently
on every side of the display
must love the feeling of being gigantic:
of having a giant’s power
over this little world of snow, where buttons
lift and lower
the railway’s crossing gate, or switch the track,
or make the bent wire topped with a toy helicopter
turn and turn
like a sped-up sunflower. A steam engine
draws coal tender, passenger cars, and a gleaming caboose
out from the mountain tunnel,
through a forest of spruce and pine, over the trestle bridge,
to come down near the old silver mine.
Maybe all Christmases
are haunted by Christmases long gone:
old songs, old customs, people who loved you
and who’ve died. Within a family
sometimes even the smallest disagreements
can turn, and grow unkind.
The train’s imaginary passengers,
looking outward from inside,
are steaming toward the one town they could be going to:
the town they have just left,
where everything is local
and nothing is to scale. One church, one skating rink,
one place to buy a saw.
A single hook-and-ladder truck
and one officer of the law. Maybe in another valley
it’s early spring
and the thick air is redolent of chimney smoke and rain,
but here the diner’s always open
so you can always get a meal. Or go down to the drive-in
looking for a fight. Or stay up
all night, so tormented by desire, you can hardly think.
Beyond the edges of the model-train display, the food court
is abuzz. Gingerbread and candy canes
surround a blow mold Virgin Mary, illuminated from within;
a grapevine reindeer
has been hung with sticks of cinnamon. One by one, kids
get pulled away
from the model trains: Christmas Eve is bearing down,
and many chores remain undone.
But for every child who leaves, another child appears.
The great pagan pine
catches and throws back wave on wave of light,
like a king-size chandelier, announcing
that the jingle hop has begun,
and the drummer boy
still has nothing to offer the son of God
but the sound of one small drum.
Copyright © 2018 James Arthur. Reprinted with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Autumn 2018.