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Poetry
From "The Structure of Days Out"

Years later I saw the man's mercury still running
  when for Piquk's dog-team,
on a nasty and darkening March afternoon,
  they cut, together, snowblocks,
and piled them in a semi-circle for a windbreak:
  and suddenly, the construction done,
he grabbed up some antlers.
  They were lying in the dog-pen in the general clutter,
and he raised them to crown his wool hat and hood-ruff.

I was sorting out the ropes and harness
  and glanced up through the evening snow drift
to see his hat and thick black glasses,
  horns raised above them,
cheekbones queerly twisted and angled,
  and under the antlers,
the Inupiaq laughter.

Then he started to dance
  among the dogs there --
dug now well into their cover --
  hands cupped on ears,
antlers branching from the deer-skull,
  the rack swaying vertically
                 as Uqpik slanted.

It was simply a gag, and didn't go on.
  He chucked off the horns
on an oil drum in a heap of rubbish.
  Nor would I have much noticed
if it had been some other joker.
                 And yet here,
in allusion, his geste, a footnote merely,
was spirit life as sketched at Trois Frères or at Mas d'Azi

the strutting biform -- mixtumque genus --
  in joked shamanistic evocation,
casually abandoned for black tea and seal meat
  and something dry, in Piquk's cabin,
to de-mist his glasses with.

It was this Inupiaq, but perhaps not him only,
  in the cycle of lives he picked up and discarded,
who slotted in and then disordered
  the shifting selves of a surface and sub-surface person:
where otherwise -- where not? -- the continuity and contiguity?
                         It was atiq on atiq
juggling of future and past portrait dance-masks,
  cached into packs of infinitely branching series --
a deep, violently cold larder --
  shells of their faces stacked together,
foreheads of life one pleated in the next one's fissure:
  weren't they brittle and transparent?
Or was this spirit-skin more pliant
  down here that they nourished,
each face of them fitted into strictly knitted links of kinship,
  and not free to disaffiliate,
or drift to resorts of their own volition,
  improvised bearings and upside-downness.

-- Tom Lowenstein

Literally "name" or "namesake," also part of the human soul believed capable of rebirth.













OnEarth. Summer 2002
Copyright 2002 by the Natural Resources Defense Council