“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.
Copyright © 2016 by Joan Naviyuk Kane. This poem was commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Imagine Your Parks grant.
"Indigenous people continue to be dispossessed of our homelands through various policies (relocation, conservation, economic development and countless other paternalisms). As an Inupiaq woman, it can be a challenge to celebrate aspects of the problematic history of this country, especially ones that are so closely yoked to my identity: land and place. I wrote this poem to honor sites in the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve whose importance is impressed upon me by relatives and community members, though I haven’t yet been fortunate enough to spend time in all of these places. This poem also allowed me to draw upon the beautiful intricacies of rhetoric, observation, and sensibility embodied in the life work of Herbert Anungazuk (NPS Native Liasion) and contrast those with those of John Muir."
—Joan Naviyuk Kane