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—  

 

More by Joan Naviyuk Kane

Nunaqtigiit(people related through common possession of territory)

The enemy misled that missed the island in the fog,
I believe in one or the other, but both exist now
        to confuse me. Dark from dark.

Snow from snow. I believe in one—

Craggy boundary, knife blade at the throat’s slight swell.

From time to time the sound of voices
                                    as through sun-singed grass,

or grasses that we used to insulate the walls of our winter houses—
walrus hides lashed together with rawhide cords.

So warm within the willows ingathered forced into leaf.

I am named for your sister Naviyuk: call me apoŋ.

Surely there are ghosts here, my children sprung
        from these deeper furrows.

The sky of my mind against which self-
                                               betrayal in its sudden burn
        fails to describe the world.

We, who denied the landscape
                                               and saw the light of it.

Leaning against the stone wall ragged
I began to accept my past and, as I accepted it,

I felt, and I didn’t understand:
                                               I am bound to everyone.

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.

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.
 

Related Poems

Story About a Glacier

What I won’t tell you is how I became a flute
and brushed against lips but there was no music.
When the blows came furious as juniper.

There were days when I was a parachute
and the wind was free but kind. I won’t lie
and say there were no such days. There were days

when I curled into hailstone and pretended
it was only breezing outside. Another man’s music.
Eventually the need to unfurl overcame the need

to stay anchored. Tsunami greeted me in its maw.
I have his smell all about me but it dwindles every day.
What I won’t tell you is how I escaped. One day

I met a map at a bar. It pointed to a gash on its head
and said I could get there by becoming someone else.
Most of me was still scrawled on a carpet under a belt.

What was there to lose that I hadn’t already lost?
Alone, in the middle of the night, the road smelled
like freshly sawed mesquite. I wormed my way out.

A buckle still loomed in the background.
And I told myself, there is no gleam.

Double View of the Adirondacks as Reflected Over Lake Champlain from Waterfront Park

The mountains are at their theater again,
each ridge practicing an oration of scale and crest,
and the sails, performing glides across the lake, complain
for being out-shadowed despite their gracious
bows. Thirteen years in this state, what hasn’t occurred?
A cyclone in my spirit led to divorce, four books
gave darkness an echo of control, my slurred
hand finding steadiness by the prop of a page,
and God, my children whom I scarred! Pray they forgive.
My crimes felt mountainous, yet perspective
came with distance, and like those peaks, once keening
beneath biting ice, then felt resurrection in a vestige
of water, unfrozen, cascading and adding to the lake’s
depth, such have I come to gauge my own screaming.
The masts tip so far they appear to capsize, keeling
over where every father is a boat on water. The wakes
carry the memory of battles, and the Adirondacks
hold their measure. I am a tributary of something greater.

At the Zen Mountain Monastery

A double line of meditators sits
on mats, each one a human triangle.
Evacuate your mind of clutter now.
I do my best, squeezing the static and
the agony into a straight flat line,
but soon it soars and dips until my mind’s
activity looks (you can take the girl...)
uncannily like the Manhattan skyline.
Observe your thoughts, then gently let them go.
I’m watching them all right, unruly dots
I not only can’t part from but can’t help
transforming into restless bodies -- they’re
no sooner being thought than sprouting limbs,
no longer motionless but striding proudly,
beautiful mental jukeboxes that play
their litanies of joy and woe each day
beneath the shadow of enormous buildings.
Desires are your jailers; set them free
and roam the hills, smiling archaically.
It’s not a pretty picture, me amid
high alpine regions in my urban black,
huffing and puffing in the mountain air
and saying to myself, I’m trying but
it’s hopeless; though the tortures of the damned
make waking difficult, they are my tortures;
I want them raucous and I want them near,
like howling pets I nonetheless adore
and holler adamant instructions to—
sprint, mad ambition! scavenge, hopeless love
that begs requital!—on our evening stroll
down Broadway and up West End Avenue.