(Alashka, Part 3)
Janet Rodney and Nathaniel Tarn
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! -.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-
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. -.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-
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. -.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-
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. -.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-
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. -.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-
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. -.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-
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. -.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-
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. -.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-
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. -.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-
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! -.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-
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. -.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-
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? -.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-
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. -.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-
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? -.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-
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? -.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-
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