The song was moist, filing away,
drifting while we drifted, something
in blackface, Al Jolson of birdland,
not quite right, prophesizing until hoarse
who knows what. The locals say he
draws poison from you, angatkuk,
shaman, though they don’t believe it.
Then the incongruous smell of
chrysanthemum crossed us up and
we remembered the service-station
with someone in handcuffs. Probably
a mistake, said the attendant, though
they do get violent. The prisoner yawned.
Our map lumbered from point to point
as if trying to remember something itself,
anything. We tossed it and got out.
On the long walk back the tundra looked cozier
by moonlight, everywhere the same,
white as bleached whalebone. But
things had not been right all day.
In the damp heat everything was wobbly,
even the bride at the old mission who
seemed to grow clouds like companions,
drawing them after. I glimpsed a ring
of seal-fur flash on her wrist. Mm-hmm,
unh-hunh they went. The honeymoon
was spent beyond the rigs. It was enough
for them it didn’t rain or snow though
the driftwood fire they made beside the boats
was all smoke. The sea sounded obscure
as if it had no shape and was empty.
We tried to capture it on Canon 501
and sent it south, but even that seemed staged.
Reprinted by permission of Louisiana State University Press from Snow House: Poems by Brian Swann. Copyright © 2006 by Brian Swann.