Inupiaq Women

She paddles and streams 
her kayak up Kobuck River.
At daybreak, 
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.

When White Hawks Come

I dreamt        the spirit of the codfish:

          in rafters of the mind;

fly out into the winter’s

           blue night;

 mirth off alder       tendrils sashay;

 while I set up

             my winter tent;

 four panels long—beams suspend

 I sit & pull blubber strips             aged in a poke bag;

 I’m shadowing the sun                    as a new moon icicle

 time melts    when white                     hawks come.

For-The-Spirits-Who-Have-Rounded-The-Bend IIVAQSAAT

When an Inuk leaves a round home
and enters into a square house
he gets a headache and gets nervous.
—Tagoona

I Light

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.

Anthropocene Years

Here Cape Lisburne
Or maybe not there.

Kaktovik then
on New Siberian Islands.

Here not here.
Elsewhere but not anywhere.

But somewhere like Cape Chelynskin;
or White Island; yes, set the route due north.

As my compass taps out of bearing in circles.
Here Novaya Zemlya. A gyroscope.

Here on the boreal island, Norway.
Wherever it is it’s warm.

Here choking on acidic air.

Here Greenland, Jan Mayen.
No it’s Disko.

Here Canada.
Baffin Island.

Grinnell Lake.
Minto Inlet.

Place fogged lenses on telescopic eyes.
Here brilliant colors of pollution so high.

Here in the melt sun, heaving waters of ocean and sea.
Here start ending double-rate heat     to sweat & yet, not yet.

Here wake-up there not here.

Related Poems

The Weavers Were the First to Know

The invasion came like a whisper,
and the leaves changed shapes, 
and the niyok grew sick.

Coconut trees,
our culture’s tree of life,
dying slowly 
as invasive beetles 
eat their hearts 
like world powers 
devour islands.

Weavers hold culture in their 
palms,
weave tradition into their families,
tuck young palms 
into their fingers,
mold them into 
entities.

But now,
our culture’s tree of life 
has grown ill from 
foreign settlement.

Palms severed,
bent like a salute
the way Chamorros are cut like cards
and dealt in front lines of American wars.

The weavers were the first to know
that our niyok is 
sick,
in need of healing.

The same way our island is 
sick,
in need of healing.

I’ve taken up the craft,
so I can weave
traditions
into the palms of my children.

I can only hope that when 
I master it,

palms will remain
for them

to weave into our future.

Signals

Every mother stitches her children
out of superstitions. We decide
this as we talk about pregnancy
under Walgreens’ incandescence.
That W—more balloon animal
than letter—loops up, embraces
itself, and presents its fullness:
a totem, stone fertility
goddess, headless
and full-bodied.

These signals catch me
more frequently these days.
The curve of a grapefruit,
the rev of an engine, peonies,
aquarium’s sea horses,
a quarter’s ridge, a quarter slot,
my neighbor’s wind chimes,
blue jay, a swollen tea bag,
morning shower steam, malachite
mound on my nightstand,
your guttural snoring,

anything in bloom. I am
collecting them, listening
closely, waiting for a voice
to reach through time
to say ready.

I grew up with a mother
who sought signals from everything.
This Thanksgiving again
my childlessness is on the table,
wedged between the canned beets
and empanadas. My molars
crush the butter and salt
from the Brussels sprouts. I add this
popping of leafy heads to my list.

I’ve known the names
of my unborn children
for years. Yet saying them aloud
feels elegiac. When I think
of having a child, I’m confronted
by the latest National Geographic
centerfold of ice floes detached
from an iceberg.

Lost in the continuously
dissolving world, I keep
collecting: the shape of tea leaves,
rain clouds, crease lines
my hand makes when its balled
into a fist. Meaning maybe
my body is only meant
to carry my ocean?

She Was Fed Turtle Soup

The willows were turning green, slips of leafs
pointing to one another in a slow tempo soothing
the air with whispers of coming water. Her feet
were bare and the earth cool while a loose hem
feathered her ankles for her walk. Bracing on
stems for the gradual pace to not disturb all the
sleeping turtles, she wished for sunlight in a
shade of green to hurry growth and to keep her
hidden. How close could she lean into the
memory of relatives who lived this life of damp
shells and slow demeanor without alerting them
of her intent. All of grandma’s voices were now
shaking her sleepy mind and begging her return
to answer the details of her dream. It was the
call of tradition that signaled the next step to
seal the new experience into her life basket.
She will be served turtle's energy for her growth.
Off of grandma's favorite tree a knot was cut and
shaped into a bowl. Handles in the shape of
young turtles were carved into the sides. Into
the cottonwood bowl was poured the prepared
soup with essence of memory from a life once
lived. Thanking all that came before this earth
life, was her detailed prayer. A calling of all
water animals to witness the taking of one
energy to give to the energy of another, a child
who passed the test of recalling ancient blood.
Her heart will live with turtle strength. Her
life will be long and purposefully directed. Her
song will be like the cool breeze moving tall
willows above eddies remembering motion.