Janet Rodney & Nathaniel Tarn - "Alashka, Part 3"
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WHITE/OUT

(Alashka, Part 3)

by

Janet Rodney and Nathaniel Tarn

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NARRATIVE OF THE ENTRANCE
TO THE GREAT NORTH



Pow/	here is the great American promised
    land with
           mountains of light bursting apart
in the frosting air
                           light-on-light
and pow/
           the gates
                  at whatever cents an acre 
     from the Russians,
           the satin air 
shot with mountain bluebirds 
the bluest bluebirds ever 
the purest air
           a mystery of mountains 
                   where Canada ends 
veil after veil, gate after gate
           as the sun slants --

Land of no night
gone beyond where night is known 
past the hot Liard, rush of Yukon 
two thousand miles into the Bering Sea: 
all your peoples, North, crying:
           "want moose, want bear, 
           want wolverine, trickster," 
on the other side of the crest, 
hard over St. Elias,
Yakutat, friendly Thlingeet:
           "want green over this,
           want bluebirds on the snows," 
Queen of the Yukon, sister to the Spirit:
           disappeared forever 
           among eagles, lynxes, 
           among snow-births...

Three Dall sheep
    pure ivory, telescoped on Sheep Mountain 
as if by royal command.
    Mist over the water,
            a thousand miles of dust
                            sinks to the bottom 
            of Lake Kluane:
no sediment,
    weariness dropping off 
            like antlers, 
presenting oneself cleansed
                            at the great gates.
     We climb into woollen pants
against the zero
     into the van now baptized "The Yukon Ritz"
            drinking Moskovskaya 100' by the pint.

Summer foods on
dashboard table, against the zero: 
    bread 
    mayonnaise 
    tomato 
    cucumber 
    scallions 
    cheeses 
    banana 
    broccoli 
plus central heating vodka
    against the zero.
             Outside,     thrashed by the wind,
catkins not seen so thick since polar Russia
             their woollen outerwear gross among lupins.
    And who'd have known as well
that Alashka would be full of swallows!

Pow/    that asshole
Robert Service,      "Bard of the Yukon,"
            is discontinued:
hasn't anyone been around lately
            to open Kluane?  
What passes for a poet up here 
            is Robert Service:
they probably needed you, William Wordsworth, 
with a dash of Walt Whitman in you 
and the spunk of an Arctic singer,
    Siberian shaman perhaps,
    St. Lawrence Yupik.  Notes made, 
against the zero
                         for an
"Ode to WWs in the great land."


Morning.  Sunshine after the storm.
(had howled and whistled all night long the worldling
                                             wolves...
Ice against shore, large crystals
                   rocked by musical waves.  
The blue is astonishing, a knife cut.  
Two pair of Red-breasted Mergansers
                   dipping close to shore -- 
then lightning flight against the ice.  
Spirit of the North : the path zips open.


     Pow/    trip-totems found!


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JULY $4,1976: SEVUOKUK
THE FLIGHT


Riding above the dream, 
    above China, above Japan. 
             with the wind 
coming off the mountains of Siberia.  
The Old World at its closest.
    We could touch its tail 
before it sounds into the deep.

             Back at the airport
our cities had been coming and going, 
British, Lufthansa, Air France, Royal Dutch 
    among the local traffic.
We had stopped on our way 
    at several stages of the city, 
       each one a resting place
            further from "civilization."

From the plane:
       sparkling day, bergs like fungi, 
green keels below blue water,
       giant tattoo on ocean's face 
looking past us at the sky,
       whales with spouts like kettles, 
a procession of imperial animals 
              blowing north.

It is as if we had no pilot,
   the plane were rudderless,
understanding our intentions of itself,
             all morning long
we run before the wind, 
             upon arrival find 
total exhaustion.

This is where we get to,
people fluttering on the shore below, 
black and white flash of snowbird 
             foretells our arrival: 
wings like a mask in our minds 
     of night and day fused
         under covering wind.

We have come to the ends of the earth 
      by the thread that spins for us 
           the long carpet of blue 
                 unrolling
                         from pole to pole.


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THE LAKE


Seas rage.  Livid light.
    In the dream,
        we have walked 200 miles today 
around the mile-long lake
    over gravel dunes,
          sphagnum moss, water-logged birds, 
    shrill signals of alarm, 
and, along the lake --
          last ice decomposed --
                       a diaphanous wind 
pushed up tiers of flutes and organs
                         playing Aeolian tunes.


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THE DREAM


Asleep in the half light
    not knowing night from day, 
        or whether to be hungry -- 
heads full of light shards
                  watching the sea 
        stroked by a Russian wind.

Out of our knowledge of each other
       strangers in us
       reach out arms we recognize.
Hair howls as night nears
   (or what approximates to night):
       whether to sleep again or wake.

              It pours out of us
   the music,
       ice scales playing
              the fire also,
       sleep rounds the door,
            seeps thru storm windows,

the lowering sun
   leaps thru a cloud-break 
lighting up whaleribs and boats 
            awash in the twilight 
   we look out into
            with sleep-studded eyes 
and feel the frost coming for us

     inside these barren walls.
We hack at the ice
   with a bone chisel,
               stagger about, 
   converse in this house 
which is as of the dead,
   a cavern at the top of the world.

We learn precision from the wind, 
   murre racing round the island,
     puffin and auklets, bullets
   in tight, windborne formations,
                putting on an air-show.  
The snowbird plays outside the window 
   inkspots/ivory,
                his song still hovering
                           over the stones.

Pieces of paper fly up the beach
   except for one going the other way:
we laugh: it is the bunting again,
   our mask careening on the wind,
                    dark eyes staring in.



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THE MOUNTAIN


Yesterday
     the sea
       with thunder fists
battered the shingles
   dissolving into musical 
            lace among stones.
                 Today the waves
                 bring in a radiance
   as of other seas
(cloud layers dissolving 
into astonished blues
   as of
lagoons far to the south) 
   does not belong to them -- 
   borrowed for a day,
                this idyll 
   suspended from the sky 
   above the beach
     picks out the hunting boats, 
     bones along ridges
               exposed to light. 
The sea a moment 
    seemed to cup us in its hands, 
      lifting us,
    and fed us up the mountain. 
Came to a place, wet underfoot, 
    high crag, snow-covered, 
where we could stand 
    and looking back, see Sevuokuk,
       and looking forward, see the whole island
                 up to Savoonga --
then, swivelling,
       in slow arc round,
         welding Alashka and Siberia, 
            their mountains in one blow:
re-uniting worlds,
            beach of stars and planets
                   rolling under our feet.



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BICENTENNIAL ODE


Next day
       the sun doesn't shine.
             It is snowing at 4 a.m. 
                    out of Siberia.  
We let the morning ride,
   grey whales still spouting out to sea, 
                    light glinting 
as they play unhunted along the coast:
              "our domestic pets."
The bunting forages under the door, 
   the silence is magnificent 
       broken only once
by a radio crowing "John Brown's Body."
   Occasional clatter of a three-wheeler.
                     We let the weather clear.
       Rare gift of leisure:
       to be idle rich,
    when a man and woman get up,
       look at the snow,
    settle into reading or writing -- 
allowing the weather to improve.
       The people gather in celebration.


What better than a Birthday Ode
    on the fourth of july here in Sevuokuk, 
       (Nome radio spewing yesterday 
       last list of frantic details--
       presidents, generals, bankers. 
       facts of the shallow case.) 
In the dream wind it will not matter,
    tho the people were cleaning up the village 
and lighting bonfires.
Where else should one be on such a day
    but among the only people
       to live in both old world and new?  
From here the Mainland's bicentennial seems 
                     faintly ridiculous.


           "Footraces for all ages."
                 The one-year-olds
           stumble towards "achievement,"
                 watched by four smiles, 
           tattooed old women -- 
                 last of the arctic-- 
           jacknifed forward on bowlegs,
                 calico parkas, faces melting.

Scattered fireworks
   with no night to explode in
      bursting blue flowers on the bluer air.
                       In the brilliant light 
a billion auklets wash and dive,
   the whale still spout
      calling their kin back to the sea
from their rotting bones along the shore.



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THE FIRST MEN


Moving across to the old sites 
    (Collins and Giddings ravaged:) 
trash fields of stone and bone
                 smelling of mint 
    we bring back order to 
           a desecrated past, 
imagining
    the first men arriving on a quiet day
                   like this,
mistaking the snow for more home snow
and following an animal a little further than usual
and setting up a house to get away from a neighbor,
    passing from what was to become Siberia 
into what was to become Alashka
    when there was no longer a land-bridge 
       between the so-called old world 
                  and the so-called new.
And we ask again
    what is our poverty (in regard to 
the riches of Egypt)
    beside the poverty of those 
             poor in regard to us?  
Our poverty is
not knowing that in such and such a place
                    they owned land,
    that each year in camp
    the sea mammals were there,
    that even the whales came to them.
                    Not having knowledge 
    of the land itself,
       recognizing all species
    of plants and birds,
       common or rare.
Our poverty is the romance of the North 
as told by some,
               of a barren world 
          men felled one after one 
          on infinite, still ice 
          by mutual distrust, 
          loss, solitude, despair, 
          frustration, drift -- 
     the ground they stand on 
forever shifting
                like the sly fog come calling, 
                    shows/hides the mountain, 
while flags of laundry snap on the lines,
     and three small boys 
          ride round and round
               the only sidewalk in town.

This is what we sd.
     but in our hearts,
which came to heel like hounds in this business, 
     we knew the immortal white of the place 
          is what we had failed to reach,
                       knowing instead our minds 
                in those of other men.



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THE GROUND OF OUR GREAT
ADMIRATION OF NATURE

                   I

The poet as the sole
              remaining speaker
         can now,
the whole, grown beyond reason,
    still speak of whole, but, now 
as certain is to probable
              in other languages, 
         the wonder -- 
mind shock  :  incompatibility,
              admiration,
wonder ever recurring despite
              the loss of doubt
    in that respect (considered as "beauty"): 
her arms swimming, as if thru water, 
the frontal surge of breasts, like frozen 
    breathing
         at the apex --
         but   /   in fact   /   in air --
"too much language, too much language,
    too many games, now, with the language": 
our positions almost lost
         unless it is not water 
    she comes thru, at the apex
              but air
              residence of the purpose, the 
    seeing,
    need for us still in the blood of the air 
              (so thin now, leukemic... ) 
the mermaid song
    her tail, our desire, such a comet 
              among air's trees: 
    as if lungs were still 
as if causally  /  pretending only,
                       but required?



                   II

No more of that being
                   no one
           but being all, in season,
           -y con fuerza, o.k.?
They have made, after all,
of beauty, a slavish thing, a handmaiden
                   perpetually
to the other desiderata of thought,
             have reduced
the domain of our interdependence:
    where we chase
her thru the trees, as she herself 
             once grew into a tree 
and we had wanted (remember that?) 
her skin until the very moment 
                     dry and sear 
    it turned to parchment -- 
they have made
    yes, of that wood, paper, we cannot use, 
books we can't bind
    or read in common parlance  /  they have not
allowed us to
    possess ourselves away in dispossession 
    thus being lords of worlds and legislators,
            but tucked us into corners 
hemmed us in --
            hacked down our hiding trees
after hemming us in --
                    so I tell you 
in the name of this rich soul (Fr./Sp.) 
(this complete transformation of a people 
              into a state):
            no more: ame / rica 
of that being
            no more /  o.k.? / de grace! 
Sweet virgin land:
                 Havre        de grace!



                   III

Tried:
   lifeless matter /  lifeless God 
or
   living matter  /  living God 
                       but, at the heart, 
still (and unexplained)
   the snow like down for no known 
           purpose and the ice 
   blue on its faces like angel faces 
           and then all this: 
mosquitos drave men mad
   (oppressive to "savages") and
           great sea monsters filled with oil 
for the sake of food
   but we shall eat tonight? not eat? 
   there shall be famine? or rich weeks?
                     (the waiting)
   the waiting to go back to    grace's harbor...
           stillness of the man on the ice
                     movement at sea
   the correspondence of desire and patience...
           Like a mermaid
                   exquisite song (ears, ears)
   bunting by day
           owl-howl by night
                   over the city of ice 
                          visibility down: 
you cannot tell the houses.from the fields,
   earth from the sky
                     and, when you go 
           into her uninhabited 
wastes no guarantee is given
                           the direction shows
   backwards to hope
           by ripple or by drift
                           there's a way back...




                   IV

Close to
          suspecting in some part 
that wide and utter freedom, stroke of wing 
                   across the emptiness, 
feather against the cloud
                   tip of the void 
forcing the lock
    like a key
          to fly beyond, into 
the world we have before us now 
                   our eyes opened 
on our hands before us,
                   body below us 
feet touching ground
    and it is:
             what, this earth? what, this 
loam so fertile, it has a name, it is 
             recorded in the early books 
                      / is it not? 
    books which still speak
             union of dead and live 
    where they have not let us go quite yet 
             into the wings, 
    the screens, and hidden corridors 
of the clouds --
    suspecting in some part
                   that wide and utter freedom
I hear of somewhere, and am / so close to / sometimes
                   it is almost as if
    (the great bones hug my soul)
somewhere at last I could
                   sweet virgin land
    so nearly
             touch it..



                   V

On the paradox:
           that the stars are unread, 
    the winds unheard,
           the bird, poised between mind 
and tree, out there among the winds and stars,
    is not to be declared
victor in war or peace / is not to be 
                    so far brought down 
    close to our ear
             as to name music for the age, 
on this scandal:
our realm is built
              imagine:nation,  many thus 
                                  its citizens, 
and all of us: dear relatives,
                (tho duty-feeble in that sense, 
                brutal to each other, and sour, 
                leaving each other in solitude 
                cd. bring us close to death: AH!
                    how hard it is to breathe!
but all that, all that:
                our private matter:
To you out there,
    this is a culture,
        civilization now
            outlaws the past, 
sheer force of  fiat, 
   that it be; and that it be this way
the stars now read
            as they set dolphins dancing in her eyes, 
and making perfect sense, a happy day
            in store for everyone
                        and the bird out there.
a moment past
   (this shard of hope against my breast, 
   growing a point)
           a moment past        mid/night.




                   VI

As for the
          point of balance, judgment
will produce:
   the artifact in splendor, this
is Point Hope.
          Above this desk, the victory 
          towers in ivory, 3" high -- 
   served to propel 
   the killing shaft towards the bird 
          or seal or caribou
   "sufficient to the appetite of natives" 
   (we found three carcases of owl)
               to purpose purposive.
          And I will kill
          the lyric as it soars
                         by memory: 
         all the lyrics before it / this is 
                         elegy, 
         and, as the lyric dies, 
same way the owls snow on the sea by day,
         on land by night
             wearing their fatal decorations, 
the page fears for the newborn song while process dies 
                          and the snow pocks.
    The shaft falls off,
    the point lives on alone (Maryland, Maryland) 
             a throb inside the prey 
and then is dead to it
             and food to us:
                          duckwood in the mouth, sawdust.
But in that moment, frozen,
    THE VICTORY
(400-700 A.D. precisely, "winged Object," man said -- 
    the white man did not know for once, "part of a sled"
             and sold for cents)
mounted:	looks like her, headless,
                          where the head, 
   lodged in the prey eats at its life with teeth 
                          soundless as memory
triumphant as desire, this
             arching of the bones above the dead 
(the rib-cage, containing the song, 
containing the meat,
containing the meat we have made of the song 
             as we devour our poets
KANNIBALISMUS!!!
             this as I said's)
   Point Hope, and all is

                                  possible...




                   VII


Archeology of Nature:
             memorials 
of ancient mighty desolations 
       man had no part in: 
    mammoth-rut below starlight, 
whale among icebergs,
           the purpose of our genitals, 
    organization of love, 
whereby all created things come to birth 
      (and shall we say
      petrification being of 
the order of A. of N., not
      history natural,
      stone has no say in purpose?)
But the very organ
set those same whale leaping thru Tongass
      we saw in admiration
as the sweet product of our ancient patience,
      has been, time past among, 
      (among the icebergs) 
a stone as well,
   so wood among the trees .
with which the soul-cage used to breathe 
a stone as well:
      if there be any trees 
                     in these cold regions.
The mind
   says it will do this:
        evolve from stone
                      with all its gorgeous colors
setting the tundra quietly on fire 
         beyond the night. 
(little sparks of fire, like 
   love in flame when life
         most hopelessly devours us).
We have come a long way
from the familiar eastern shores
                      to the ground
of our great admiratlon of nature
and we watch the greys
weave with the silvers and the golds
and the sands, and the greys again, out to sea 
beyond the polar ice
which is the blue of angels' faces, 
    when they are cold-as we say:
    COME INTO THE HOUSE OF MY LIFE 
    ye that have hugged the bones 
    whose rib-cage is the whale 
    that swallowed the prophet 
    of the mighty sea.  Crosses, crosses 
now, above Point Hope, the shamans dead,
imagination buried
under the oval freezure,
             the petrified milk-drop 
the bones, jutting into the sky like the teeth 
of an animal rnore immense than the whale...

      Hold, hold to your patience
beyond these immemorial angers
       and she will fly into your poem,
             who are there
wearing her mask today, & breasts, beating her drum.



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NARRATIVE OF THE GREAT ANIMAL


                  I

Denali was our greatest animal.
We might    never have seen it, doubted
all reports, never realized
          why it was unmistakably
lord of America.
                It rose, when it rose,
two whole days 
      Out of surrounding mountains
          like the sun's ghost 
after a burial at sea,
          like the white whale 
out of the sea
      defining all else immediately.


Almost a painting.
      That unreal: as when they say: "postcards,"
                                            etc.
           (or "travel poster.")          
Archetype of all mountains,
           behind the mind, lurking,
no: they say of a  beast  "lurking"
      and we talk of gods.
Always there, against:   the epiphany.
           White ship of space, rootless, 
suspended from the clouds.
           Sometimes, the whole sky grey,
the crown, floating by itself in the heights / or  /
           clouds on its face: recessing it, 
into immeasurable farness,
           or lifting it (the mountain) / depressing it, 
according to the play of cloud.

           A RESURRECTION.            
                          from the dead,
from the death of our senses, in its shroud,
which is also a wedding gown: 
           bride/bridegroon,  
                in one plenitude.
Knowing, Or not, the plenitude: there is
                                 no other question.
(That we could have been, again, encamped, 
with most of humanity at the foot, and spent 
days,    days, weeks even,    and not seen it/
as so many, coming all this way,
on little money, their poor lives spent, 
at the gates now, and,  still,  not seen it: 
this    beats    all    matters   of   election, 
and Mallarme's absence, or Kafka's gatekeepers.)

           When, thus, it rose,
and we, disbelieving, who had said
    all along the way
           "is  this  Denali,
and then this, and this, and this --
           since there is no end to
    the mountains        
           but, patient: there being always a step below
    suspect perfection,
           until, at road-curve,
"Oh My God," hushed, and you not seeing yet, and then:
           you also:
"oh my god," in a still greater hush, 
                    because, now there was
    no possible mistaking.

           GREAT STAR OF SPACE
from the dead
    complete,           
           in its motionless travels,
even then: at its destination, never yet gone
                                 from earth, its
            parent. We might not
    have seen it, never
            have looked on god's face
and lived (so far) to tell tales.
                                  Had we not
    seen it,
    the world
    would have always
    forever thereafter,
    and its word, logos,
seemed smaller                     because
             after the moon, after all, 
    it is never the same again:
an earthly thing has to be great indeed, perfect indeed,
                   to give that plenitude  /  that lack
    of argument, tells us we have
                         looked on god's face
and lived (so far) to tell tales.

And, had we not seen this, 
would not have seen, either, 
in any sense of the word "seen,"
since only this mountain gave the world eyes 
                                           and senses

to apprehend it with:
           (catalogue / world model): 
           the cinnamon mountains, 
           all the other mountains 
           in their variety, 
           the heaving bears, with earth 
           like Atlas, on their shoulders, 
           wolves, running fast as cars,
           our idiot ptarmigan, posing at roadside,
           the payroll animals, bowing as each bus passes, 
           the tourists shouting...
             (continue at own leisure):

   my-minute-preoccupations 
under Denali:
   horned lark (American first) 
   eagle (repeat); eagle (but immature) 
   wheatear (American first) 
   phalarope (American first) 
   (continue as per notebok, 
   list climbing, x% of total record).

           But the invisibles:
                   harlequin duck (later: St. Paul) 
                   arctic warbler (later: Point Hope) 
                   golden plover (later: Shishmaref) 
                   ivory gull (later: Gambell) 
                   gyrfalcon (later: Nome) -- 
                   all these,
                   waiting for the next time,
                   the world being in place now,
                      no problem.
                   And seen, then, again and again, 
                      the lord Denali,
                   from: Turnagain Arm, Cook Inlet, 
                   from the roadside, on the Fairbanks highway, 
                   from the plane, out of the Pribilofs, 
                   as if it were a friend now, 
                   and reluctant to leave...

and the great animal,
even greater than  this  animal, 
(Denali god-beast, 
with hips of stone 
and rock-haunches),
   waiting for the next occasion also 
to get us before another sighting,
   another chance at this vicinity 
   among the thorns and dangers of this world -- 
   BUT WE HAVE SEEN IT 
   and thus, by implication, also the other: 
   as dark as this is bright...

Cloud of mosquitos.
Splat: blood on hands, face, clothes:
wolf / moose / bear / bird blood perhaps,
John Doe from Texas, or Oklahoma blood,
                                     ("the animals")
What a merger in the sight of the whole!

          Outside the Park, every signpost in Alashka is
                            riddled with bullet holes,
          the land should have never seen people
                            this blight on it:
              back into civilization  ...



                  II

We could not remember its form
                      (the mountain, woman now)
dropped from high cloud
                      on memory,
mind's waters/
               ripples growing dark
   covering the imprint
lying dormant,
              imagination failing
this whole year.


                      Year of miracles:
to have carried the mold all these months
                      in the magnitude of space.  
Now we had travelled to the edge 
of the procession of peaks and valleys 
would lead us to her flanks,
       trip to the rim of vision, 
pointing always thru the overcast,
       remembrance of... a possibility 
as a heliotrope fathoms the hidden sun.

Deep in waters, the mountain lay 
wrapped in her veils and promises 
ready to give herself from the feet up.

Foothills like an artist's workshop, 
ochres, siennas, ambers, 
draw the eye up to lose itself in blue heights, 
dream of her radiance above our heads 
weaving imperfect shades: 
happy as children allowed to play 
until light fades on hills around, 
dwarf world of plants clinging to the tundra, 
spreading outward like mats, sad as love-pangs, 
wildflowers, short of summer warmth, 
flickering energies on the bank,
           mosquito-murder in the greens

      "Lady, breathe your wind, 
      move the dwarf-plants 
      upon their fragile stems 
      above our heads."

From the movement of
      a number of nearby stars
                        we imagine that
a mountain becomes ours    from the depths
   conceived as bride
                    from among the dead:
how stone mixes,
  slime firing in the kilns, 
peaks claw skyward in some paroxysm, 
folds settle in silence as for years 
snow falls, cools into ice, flakes shrink,
lace tips melt
             and

eyes move
with a rush of birdwing
to see it: equanimity
                      wings go, eyes stay
fuse with the contours of her limbs
                    as the hills shake,
knees flex, elbows angle
            under a lapping tide and:
     suddenly
the great herds
emerge from the valley's end 
hoofmarks on snow, churned up silks,
animals pouring like cataracts thru passes,
columns of swaying antlers
                  cresting on skylines, 
tatters of velvet I'ke an army's banners
flying from pikes and lances, 
the water mixed with snow and mud, waves 
tan and grey as far as eye can see, 
no start, no end: earth moves, 
migrating North, driven by the shuffle of season, 
nothing is steady underfoot, eyes quake 
as the whole landscape floods.

       In the wind
                 a fawn is dropped
       arrests the tide
    but momentarily,
                 stopping the robe an instant
from sliding altogether
                 to leave the mountain bare.


     Will the sun
thru interplay of cloud and weather 
touch the mountain with a bridal flush 
     or will she tonight
           recline in quiet greys,
                           a fading diva, 
              whole camp as one 
       facing in her direction 
as she silently reads
          without stage effect 
                            the poem of her life?

We    both here
in this	process
             neither the outer 
nor the inner suffer,
      the mountain
shaping our minds,
               and later, as the mind 
gathers and shapes the mountain,
                             never loss.
In the dark,	
               animal tides ripple still, 
the night will not quench that flow but take it
                             like a sea
from one end of the earth to the other.
                             And not a moan.
not a wind whisper, but silence
                             itself made motion
      on memory.
Glven the mountain back itself
      in marble tones
refraining from destruction
                            of lesser things.
Until at last,
light on flank and crown,
              and death all lowered,
she stands revealed
wherever we would find ourselves within her country.
      Time speeds us to her encounter, 
(human voices fading into the background)
              the whole range
                           burns with white fire,
          Star among stars
whose radiance in the end
          comes to rest among men, 
the taiga carpet receiving her,
          ponds and lakes catching her flare
                         on this last day,
voices of birds and grasses
          crisscrossing in the night, 
low hum of insects in the hells,
                       memory stirring from its den, 
     to try once more her storage.



                   III

God    /    Goddess

     Bride    /    Bridegroom

entailing,
        in each of our attitudes, 
the best in me, which might be woman, 
in you, which might be man.
        How will they tell,
who hear the poem of its life (the mountain's)
        which verse of it wrote which 
and, following, who ended the stanza
                      when eyes fell closed 
in the dazzled tent
    whose blues and greens 
                      we baptized at its knees?

As the light recedes
and takes from this frail universe
                           all terms of life,
      (leaves us in darkness
      most any planet could rush and occupy, 
      ourselves, waking to morning in another world 
          with no familiar maps) -- 
what a disconsolate place we inhabit 
which could change out of recognition, 
taking the seals of bride and bridegroom both 
out of creation overnight, and leave us prey.

                           The stars
move like a tide over sleep,
    the cosmos,
              its peaks and seas 
    in a procession:
                   suddenly   (as one might put it):
                   the great herds of stars
                   moving across the night    in silence 
     without a moan, without apparent wind to move them,
              losing themselves completely
                                         over the rim...


In the afterdark
    memory beginning to slip,
                           male thoughts,
          female thoughts,
                   the small child thoughts,
                                  like bannerets,
all going out at once, with starlight
                   and the mountain also,
    reluctantly,
                (its rock
                          hardly awake to move, but
going over the edge also
                          and our storage
                                        without retrieval.

Knowing, or not, the plenitude: there is 
                             no other question.  
And, without forcing it:
                      the profundity.
             I collect stones, you
make your list of birds:  we dredge
                                     the well of records.
When the page is full for the day,
             we can make love: this turn 
will take me into manhood, you to womanhood,
                                           earth
shifting again underfoot
as if the hooves migrated thru our knees.
             This foursome
    of the implicit in each, 
             bridal to the other, 
and then the total other,
             strange at trail's end, 
    of whatever sex,
             or of no sex whatever 
(if the stars indeed have gone over and the world
             seethes with a new idea or two)
                   placing us both in question
                                  and all identity.

This has to be a move,
retrieving the mountain,
in all its aspects,
translating it    /   an exhibition: 
                 the massive power now 
against
    the pity of it.
                 The smallness, meanness,
    insignificance
                 of all of it.
                 Like destroying this land.
                 This culture, however meagre.
                 Making a laughing stock 
    of this humanity.
                 Ending Alashka
before it has begun.
                 Deep in the well of darkness,
small flowers stir.
    They look at us, as a flower in Blake might do, 
for a moment,
    the whole fate of our universe hangs on them: 
                 whether, tomorrow, 
they are picked or not,
                 trodden under foot or not,
                              browsed or not, 
by the tide of cattle.

                 "How far we are from each other
                 how close we are


                 like a flower
                 which cannot see itself 
                 and finds no mirror it can use 
                 in the clouded sky"



                            IV

At the moment of strain,
             resolution 
pushing up clouds off the valley floors 
                   makes 
out of cloud a mountain:
                   (in our dreams
had we seen whale
             above the waves 
or waves themselves
                   (their blades of darkness?)

                   At the moment of strain,
     the killing time --
             as if a sudden intruder 
in the middle of the poem
             were to walk in, oblivious, 
or If even you
             were to touch me now 
when the whole weight of it hangs in the balance, 
or if this machine,
             unable to bear the speed 
of our attack on the mountain,
             were to stumble, break down, 
and lose the guiding thought --
             so that the peak 
could not loom above the cloud
             as if it really were 
in place, and not some play: 
imagination under cloud /
                           play   /   gamble


                           and one were sick 
with a lurch of breath
                           into throat,
bile over tongue, nerves
                           shredded for the rest of the year:
    for memory
    would have blown connections 
    and would not know
                         what lay behind the cloud. 
(Facing north,
or what we thought was north, waiting,
                           for the mountain to come out 
thinking there was something petty about the foothills, 
but making nothing of it,
                           (experts now),
                               the mountain, hours later, 
    like a trickster yet again,
             suddenly coming out to the northwest, 
taking our breath away:
                           immensity --
                 but with a partial tallness,
                 the summit in cloud now,
                 the waistline open, but higher than
all height our memory had cradled.

   IS IT THE MOUNTAIN LIES BEHIND THE CLOUDS, OR IS THE SUN

   OR LOVE, THAT MOVES THE SUN AND OTHER STARS...  ?

                                 SOMETHING UNSAID AS YET... ?

At the moment of strain,
                       sleep meets waking
under the eyelids;
                   the animals 
flow in their tides over the hills, 
their reins held firmly by the stars,
                                  washing themselves
on a dark tide
                over night-rocks:
                               thought itself
a swell within the skull,         
                linked to that movement 
(backs of dolphin and whale)
     as if some stillness
                        were the enemy.

     We have put up today
our defenses
            against oblivion.
                           The mountain has put up
its longer argument.
            All definitions
hang in the balance.
                          We are content
            to rest in every case.



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PENDANT TO THE EARTH


             I

We landed from the sky, 
sea & earth 
were sewn together, 
a slant-eye 
sealed shut 
& behind its lid 
we chuted down 
in a dream 
where fingers cracked 
with sound of twigs, 
our heads swivelling 
on warm trunks, 
scanning for sun.

Words protruded 
from our mouths 
like eggs
falling upon silence 
& from these tiny spheres 
small men stepped out 
into prismatic air 
carrying boats of eggshell white, 
hand-sewn and silent boats 
that make no rasp against the ice 
& from the boats 
a chain of animals paraded, 
two by two, 
just as we walked, 
in two.

That was us,
in a photograph,
watching men leave town in boats 
left behind with the women,
us in flight from tourists,
our shadow on the beach, 
waiting for a chick 
answering to the name of Beauty 
as might be understood in these parts 
if hailed by that name, 
at best a luxury item 
pushing her way 
thru a swinging door, 
braid at her back like a fin, 
which of us would pay for her drink 
and of us, what would she think, 
and of our admiration?


             11

That day,
alinost everything was empty.  
We stood at the edge 
of human habitation 
and ice regions 
stretched beyond 
the mind's boundaries, 
stretched so far
they came round again.

That day,
we pressed our ears & lids to the earth 
close as grass, 
a life not quite 
forgotten,
and grew as small as miniature plants, 
tufts sprouting in our hair, 
then shot up with long necks 
to nuzzle the tops of mountains 
and listen for the whisper of wolves 
& news of passing herds, 
we could have heard 
a star drop
and mentioned it
with leaf-words, bone syllables, 
rhythms that shook water 
from wings, crests and bills.


             III

Reading the snow after years 
would tell
our direction, but nothing 
makes for certain return 
in a sudden whiteout 
when shadows disappear, 
contours flatten, 
script erased by wind.
Snow would be 
a warm bed 
covering us with soft drifts 
as even our hopes faded 
like hills in fog, 
cities of ice 
we might reach, 
skyscrapers of white on white 
leaning away 
at our approach.

There could be 
no greater silence 
than a crystal city 
with no inhabitant 
where even gulls are ivory.  
To see a raven then, 
his black our greatest gift, 
to follow his track 
until it made sense
or we made sense of it.


           IV

In memory, 
"thought can embrace 
any region whatsoever 
   and in it
   and at will, 
construct the setting 
of some locus"
and while telling 
about a place 
we see two 
written into a plain, 
hands parting whaleribs 
planted in a sacred oval, 
range of greys
   clouds/ribs/mounds of snow, 
there balanced on tussocks, 
treading grass 
turning nature's pages 
with our feet 
until we reach 
that particular place 
and not another, 
that part of us 
taking root at every moment 
in where we are.


           V

Imagine: our nation, 
its northern air 
& words running east 
towards the sun, 
us waiting 
in the shadow 
of that door 
to see them file by, 
the hunters, 
throbbing over ice, 
the glare 
as they close in 
& the sun swings down 
in a low arc 
above the caps, 
our bones inside flesh 
rushing the mind's waters, 
split off from land 
two floes bobbing out to sea 
lost in a memory 
of white on grey.

Before the day
is snatched from our eyes 
we wind towards the center 
and disperse, 
our bodies like tops 
pause at the rim 
then spin back to earth, 
where we begin again 
to know ourselves.



           VI

Looking back
(walking softly over skulls 
or shells
while the eider & puffin 
speak to the sea 
and the whales drive skyward 
along the dog tongue beach 
chewed at the edges 
the sun
shoots thru a blue vein 
to lagoons we cup in our palms, 
a strange bird 
black & white plumage mixed 
swiftly passes 
at dusk's grey moment.
Mirrors coated with tin 
do not catch its passage 
so swiftly it comes in
nor does anyone chance upon
its negative,
black where white was, 
white where black, 
nor the two birds 
walking inside each other, 
perpetually becoming one.

& between banks of ice 
the water pulls at the boats, 
that morning in summer when 
calico women go out to the bluff 
to sift thru layers of earth 
for chips of bone & ivory
all from that same skeleton, 
that earth-mound body, 
and around the head, 
hands swollen with cold 
we also picked thru shards,
the skull bowl filling with light 
while Beauty was
cool behind a pair of shades
& sneered over at us from the rim, 
legs slightly apart
riding an invisible motorcycle, 
hair streaming in the wind.


           VII

When that landscape
     and we
have been split in two again 
by the rays of the sun 
& become
a pile of stones
made to look like men
& men hide behind us for the hunt,
& lichen grows on our lips
& we think
that all the creatures of the earth 
are lying with their necks 
across one another, 
asleep like us,
& the snow begins to fall 
in flakes,
white, light,
the fall of these flakes 
forming layer on layer 
the heart's power, 
secretly like a mirror 
separate from what it saw, 
will have been
the eye behind a dream 
suddenly flicked open, 
that we may go and see our world!



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NARRATIVE OF THE HEARTBEAT



Lovely as birdflight
       above guns,
noise of hunt and war,
              boundaries, 
over the sameness of mountains, 
the abundance --
once you get into mountain country --
       the apparent
interminability of mountains, and their sameness, 
       viewed from the car as we rush by,
          the colors
merging into one another,
blacks, furrow browns, greys, heathers:
       thigh-colors of goddess 
where she parts to let sky in,
       where she parts to let rivers
   to allow to lakes
       their pleasures,

lovely as surmounting,
with the effortlessness,
       the distinguished ease 
of the great flights of birds, launched 
       at the wind like spears,
winged spears, with purposes they know alone
   but which to us
are purposeless and above criticism -- 
   no purer beauty than
       the contemplation
of the goddess moving,
          bird-skeins:
   her eyebrows as she comes towards us, 
no purpose known to us 
over the mountains
       the interminability
and apparent
   endlessness of the mountains,
yet I am on foot now
   periploid,
feet bouncing in their boots 
on the tussocks, your feet 
        a few yards from mine 
bouncing on the tussocks,
   we walk: alone  /  together 
into the great wind of her breath, 
as we move towards her or she 
   towards us,
              no matter, as we move 
   into each other 
in the dazzle of this arctic morning 
and I go
"Are those the so-and-so mountains over there, 
is that the so-and-so range over there?"
   and we laugh after a while 
because nothing ever moves in this country,

and your voice says,
laughing,
      "No, you don't have birdsight now, 
   you are bewitched: look:
               that is not mountains you see there, 
what you see is small pieces of ice 
sticking out of the sea" 
and I said "My God, I thought it was 
at least the Brooks Range!"

and we continue
marching for insensate hours 
into the channels of her throat, 
into her nostrils,
down her ears,
into the caverns at the back of her glottis, 
while, out there, in the world left behind, 
her breasts are those hillocks, 
her belly is this mountain over here, 
that immense world-tree 
(I know not its name here, but in Scandinavian
it is the central tree, the one we call Ygdrassil -- well,
         in any event)
that tree's umbrage is her pubis, and the branches
   her traps that she has between her lips
as we lick to her knees  
   upturned, and thrash, and pant, to kiss
the long roots of her toes,

        messages, frorn outside:
mouse-peep, say, or chatter of ground squirrel, 
   or, on parade, the wheatear,
come all the way from Scotland 
        -- (My own Norths, so far from home, so unforgotten) -- 
   and, sometimes, the traverse
of wolves scavenging the valleys
and, on high, the sheep picketing the snows,
and in the middle, the caribou, choking in their thousands
                 the immemorial passes...

but to look for the secret,
for the innermost wisdom,
for the velvet-pawed, soft-padding,               
ghost who walks on inolten sapphires among the tussocks,
you have to leave even your feet and set out into the dream
                    of true, genuine, totally untouched
   wilderness,
and there you have to look into every bush,
   and detect 
the direction of every drift in the sand along the riverbed,
the form of every stone in the bed
                    and gauge its color and weight 
and after you have been dreaming several hours
   if fortune smiles,
and several days, if fortune smiles still, 
             and a lifetime,
if fortune is still smiling and has not abandoned you,
   you may suddenly,
when no longer expecting it,
   when resigned,
when you have given up all but the last word
                     it takes to remain alive, and when
you have perhaps given up hope for life and utter that last word
the one they call so mysterious, the name of the lady of these
             mountains,
then, on his velvet-pawed, soft-padding,
   mysterious way,
god-masked and tufted, come down at last to match
                       that lady of the outermost mountains, 
   with his fraternal eyes,
         so brotherly and blue, asking all his questions, 
receiving all her answers, in her own communion,
                            you may see at last

   her heart's own master heartbeat, timid lynx.



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SO LONG, THE KENAI



             I

Nearing Kenai-
      city not peninsula -- 
difficult to find the city 
      off the main road: 
only two lines of churches
      to a dead god  /  the heart 
we recognize at last:
      a shopping center about to be 
in the mid-forest,
      side roads leading almost 
nowhere, in the end:
      very last drop in the bucket, 
old Russian chapel
      in a haze of golden grasses, 
boarded up, (smelling of Novgorod),
      throttled
by squalid apartment blocks around it 
they could have put anywhere else good grief 
      in the green world.



             11

Nearing Homer,
       Ninilchik, native community, 
"Help us protect our native way of life" 
       (Orthodox church on the hill): 
the fishermen stand at intervals 
       as if voiding into the sea, 
at the other end of town
       from the native-worked factory, 
their campers in a neat line along the beach.
       They are trying to fish out 
the heart of the great waters
       before it reaches the factory, 
vein by bleeding vein:
       the salmon thrash like hearts 
falling to pieces.



             III

-- Oil in Kachemak Bay?
-- Oh I love the Bay but
-- Do you Iove your Bay?
-- Yes I love the Bay and
all the fish in it
       jumping
clear all the way from here 
       into Cook Inlet, 
but the big companies 
are not men anymore,
       you know, 
they are bigger than men and 
you can't stop progress and 
       the radical leader 
in town has too many causes, 
writes too many letters 
about too many things and is 
too radical about so much, add to 
which he's not been here besides 
what anyone would call around here 
       very long.




             IV

Freedom of the Spit
      living out three days 
into the ocean
      bird-crossed, seal visited, 
whale-visitationed.
      Ah the Bays, the Bays and Inlets 
across the water!
      Boat bouncing out, the bosun's 
bosom bouncing:
      local senator's kid, blonde, sassy.
Among the paradisal trees
      of the small haven, 
State Senator, noblesse oblige,
      whistling in the warblers.
There is a wind, he says, I can't compete: 
      there is no wind:
the birds surprisingly
      will not obey his laws 
as well as men:
      Homer lost for oil, for pelf,
because the people fail to question 
      the word progress.
Plato, at the end of his tether.
      A philosopher, white-bearded, 
approaches the van,
      talks of selling out 
his homestead
      or giving it away to someone 
in the advancing hordes.  Now the view has gone, 
he smiles, what's the use of the money?



             V

The great scenic view
        is clouding over,
the rain drowns it out most days
        in any case:
soon the sludge will come down
        like the wrath of heaven
and drown it altogether.
        The killer whale 
who has leaped his way 
        up Cook Inlet
as far as Iliamna,
        leaps one last time
out of Eternity
        and stands sludge-bound
like a colossal
        semi-dipped cone
at a Dairy Queen's.
        Enchanted with free goodies,
the companies
        call for State Park
and Parking Lot, and Lottery:
        this / monument to vision.



           VI

So long, the Kenai,
you wiII be sold for oil, 
covered in hamburger joints 
and denominational churches, 
a spot of leprosy 
from which no tupin spear 
no hemlock parachute, 
and no black lily
       of Iliamna
can rise or fall --
sold to men, mud, mosquitos, 
to buy a little respite 
for all the rest
untiI the rest also 
dies of the plague.
Alashka, U.S.A.
"North to the Future!"
The Future of What?



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LETTER FROM HOMER



Down by Homer
     with the wind at too many knots 
blowing away the tent,
        the thought seizes me again 
            why do I not go out 
in the dark blue ship
     whose horn is blowing in the harbor
                      straining to sea,
     and loose myself
from this Ithaca with whom I am
     so uneasily re-united,
the traveller's blood
                      leaping like salmon
            in every vein?

                      Yesterday
there were no black lillies opposite Iliamna
                      tho, after rain,
just as I got to Homer,
all the mountains rose at once out of the mist
                      to bow to me
             with a white dazzle.
                      Travel within
      travel: I move without moving, 
      having seen these lands before, 
with the needling of discovery
                      in every pore, 
so that, now, Ithaca has become familiar 
straining forward like a ship on the waters 
                      and I am contracted 
for years to come,
               a wanderer.


                      This was to be 
a staying time for us, where you and I 
would sit at home for once 
(provisionally, a forward base of home)
                      and work these poems 
to viability.

              Instead, we are at letters again.
              Everything moves.
              I move from Anchorage,
              you move to Hope,
              I should go next, in this chessgame, 
              to somewhere like Ultima Thule 
              under the setting sun.
              When you go, I arrive,
              when you arrive, I move 
              even tho the mind stumbles 
              and comes to a halt.

Which is what it might have meant after all, 
that story of the man supposedly satisfied 
by his return to the home he had left for so long, 
his winning the contest of the great bow, 
decimating the stars of Greece, his rivals, 
his toes licked by dogs and nurses,
his bed graced by the flower of wives,
                               when he heard
the loud song of the ship in the harbor 
    calling to sea,    THALASSA!    THALASSA! 
                          knowing he went,
already as the ship strained for the sea,
                          into a calm
    more terrible than the calm of sirens
                          and that the rock
he felt anchored to, unable to really move,
    as the ship plunged down to doom,
                          --they would call it
Purgatorio, or America, no matter:
                          it was that stone

the mind became which had begun to slow.



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THREE DEATH POEMS



Death comes
to the iceman
(with knowledge of ice, 
slowly)
bristles on the surf, 
the waves of his thoughts 
turning white 
& the sun dips north, 
sparks of water 
salt his tongue, 
his eye skates inward 
to a zone of sharpness 
& there he watches 
the broad flukes 
of leviathan sounding, 
& overhead 
shadows sweep,
& points of light,
as he moves thru the dusk
following the eider and whale.




I remember,
you ask:
what is this?
what is this?
what sort of place 
have I been living in 
all these years,
I who was born 
to live in Paradise 
and not this place? 
Not Paradise, 
not these children 
whining for food, 
thin rations 
you eat with guilt, 
old man 
since the last born 
your place inside 
the house has shrunk, 
you swallowed it one day 
with the air 
in your food.

So that night
you leave
your hunting skins 
by your grandson's head.

They hear you go out, 
door slams behind 
wind holds it shut, 
& you are blown 
praying to lose 
your eyesight, 
your face warmed 
by a fall of feathers, 
the snow's burn 
against your cheeks: 
light of the place 
you feel you should lived in 
all your long life.

They'll find you
in the spring, 
your body white 
as Paradise.





The vow
of the sealskin rope,
would you take it,
if I asked you
some afternoon in spring
when wildflowers huddle
close to the ground
would you come
to my tent if I asked you
& help me tie
the ends of a rope
up on the ridgepole,
loop hanging down
two feet from the floor,
would you help me
put on my clothes
without reproaches
would you help me
sit my ageing frame
down beside the rope,
place my head 
through the loop
like I asked 
would you hurry
to press down 
the back of my head 
would you 
on a sunlit afternoon
while the whales
spout offshore
help an old friend
and mate these past years 
until she was dead?



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        A great deal of talk on the "mystery" of being 
Native. In the end, we ask X how she can keep together 
in her head i) the "mystification" of her culture as a 
Native, and ii) the axiom that nothing need remain un-
elucidated by the science she practices. There is no 
answer.

        They worry about the non-Native ripping off the 
Native and the Native himself ripping off his own people.  
Some of these Natives are poets: we try to discuss the 
poet, a Prometheus, the great thief of fire who has 
never been held responsible for the provenience of his 
sources. How can you copyright anything in the ideological 
realm?  How can the balance be found, in any culture, 
between possession and non-possession, between Marx and 
the Buddha?

        The Natives have a unique land settlement deal 
with the Feds but it leaves them wide open to the sell-
and-be-sold ethic of the nation. Indeed, as patriotic 
nationals, this is what they claim themselves to have
desired.  But they are being pushed into "Progress,"  
"Originality" and "Evolution" when the issue of these
is in all likelihood already decided by the system.  
What the Natives seem to fear is whether or not they 
have the energy, and the genius, to save themselves 
and us also.  Sublime irony of the Union: to have pushed 
the original Americans into being the Saviors. Would 
anyone in this position not die laughing?


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Copyright © 1979 by Janet Rodney and Nathaniel Tarn.
First published by Brillig Works, and now out of print.
This is the third installment of the complete work.

Go to Part 4, "The Forest"
Go to Part 2, "The Road In"

Light and Dust Mobile Anthology of Poetry


Return to Light and Dust Poets.