Exceeding Beringia

“I remember the birds ever so many of them when I hunted with the weapons of a child. The water was covered in their numbers, red as the flowers of summer on the mountain. The red phalarope were our prey of choice, there were so many. Today, these birds return yearly, but now only a few return home in spring to show us they remain a part of the land, as we are.” —Herbert Aġiyġaq Anungazuk

Nimiqtuumaruq aktunaamik: bound with rope.
This land with its laws that serve as wire
and root to draw us together. Sinew, snare,
the unseen growth of the green tree
many rivers south whose stump now shoals

into use. Through layer upon layer of land
submerged, of ice, of ash, through lakes
that cannot be the eyes of the earth.
The phreatomagmatic blue sprawl
of the Devil Mountain Maar, the Kuzitrun

drained by inland veins scrawling tributaries
with name upon vanishing name.
The giant granite tors at Serpentine:
Iyat, the cooking pot sentineled
by unscoured stone as it towers

endlessly into the flickering sky.
Auksruaq, like the blood that seeps
across such hot and dim and strenuous
times where one still cannot be serene:
red phalarope, might we follow,

leaving the meadow wet with tears?
From nest to fledge and then to move again
right out to sea, circling tight vortices
to upwell food. Let us lose our grief
in great rafts as we translate the renamed

straits. Our limbs, like yours, are burnt
and broken. Let us at last make noise
of this truth as we return together
to wear another furrow, to make portage,
to make our land our home anew.

More by Joan Naviyuk Kane

Gray Eraser

There is no one to scold,
even when the heavens deem
 
the most abject of failures
receptive to correction.
 
Likewise in cackleless sleep,
the magpies remain tucked away.
 
A mother can no longer dismiss
her child as a spectacular waste
 
of an education. Even the wind
stills its sighs in the dry and bare
 
branches of the nearby white
spruce damaged by Lirula blight.
 
Meanwhile, a pearl-green fox
retracts its untrussed tail
 
through an eastward sky
thick with unfamiliar stars.
 
If I wake missing the cold,
fresh sound of new snow,
 
I may still miss the kinds of places
that scar me and complete
 
my sorrow. Late at night,
the birches must let their leaves
 
pitch and imbricate the floor
of what is left of the woods
 
near what is left of me.
 

Compass

I let him do what he will to me—
we are traveling into the waves
and the ocean is torn by swells.

I am cautious. The moon,
it can barely be sensed,
it cannot be helped.

I learned something, I am learning.
I am untangling a rope.
I am caught by a breaking wave.

The boat is rolling from side to side
I tell of my going to town—
What he threw broke through,

it has broken away.

 

Translated into English from Inupiaq by the poet.

 

Taktugziun

Manimaiga—
maliŋniagratugut
mallatuq.

Nuyaqtuŋa. Taqqiq,
ikpiŋanailaq,
iluilaq.

Ilisiruŋa, ilita.tuŋa.
Ilaiyairuŋa akłunaamiik.
Qaaġaaŋa.

Uaałukitaaqtuq umiaq.
Quliaqtuŋa aptauqtuaŋa—
Iitaaga pularuq.

ilaŋa.tuq.

 

Nunataq

In a strait, some things are useful.
Others, true, she turns to ash. 

Thrust, thus—

her head thick with arrogance, 
infection and futility.

It could be how a young wife went,
strewn with net-veined willow 
and mountain aven— 

trespass, and wreckage. 
She could write about the year 
she turned to heat and haze, 

to laze: immurmurat-, 
imauraaqtuŋa. Of cannula
and silver nitrate. Of petiolus 

and achene, about to begin again. 
Of greens as they green. Of a man 

aged, eskered. Of a confined gleam— 
to hereby dissolve and hold for naught

the soil / gravel / silt groaning 
as the tools of our penultimate glacier,
 
a glacier I might pronounce like grief. 

One does wish for words to thaw 
in the mouth, but find instead a tongue,

welt. Erosional or depositional, raised 
& visible, rift into language & grit—