When an Inuk leaves a round home
and enters into a square house
he gets a headache and gets nervous.
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.
From Effigies: An Anthology of New Indigenous Writing. Copyright © 2009 by dg nanouk okpik. Reprinted with permission of Salt Publishing.