Animal bones and some mossy tent rings
scrapers and spearheads
carved ivory swans
all that remains of the Dorset giants
who drove the Vikings back to their long ships
talked to spirits of earth and water
—a picture of terrifying old men
so large they broke the backs of bears
so small they lurk behind bone rafters
in the brain of modern hunters
among good thoughts and warm things
and come out at night
to spit on the stars
The big men with clever fingers
who had no dogs and hauled their sleds
over the frozen northern oceans
killers of seals
they couldn’t compete with little men
who came from the west with dogs
Or else in a warm climatic cycle
the seals went back to cold waters
and the puzzled Dorsets scratched their heads
with hairy thumbs around 1350 A.D.
—couldn’t figure it out
went around saying to each other
‘What’s wrong? What happened?
Where are the seals gone?’
Twentieth century people
executives of neon death
warmakers with things that explode
—they have never imagined us in their future
how could we imagine them in the past
squatting among the moving glaciers
six hundred years ago
with glowing lamps?
As remote or nearly
as the trilobites and swamps
when coal became
or the last great reptile hissed
at a mammal the size of a mouse
that squeaked and fled
Did they ever realize at all
what was happening to them?
Some old hunter with one lame leg
a bear had chewed
sitting in a caribou skin tent
—the last Dorset?
Let’s say his name was Kudluk
carving 2-inch ivory swans
for a dead grand-daughter
taking them out of his mind
the places in his mind
where pictures are
He selects a sharp stone tool
to gouge a parallel pattern of lines
on both sides of the swan
holding it with his left hand
bearing down and transmitting
his body’s weight
from brain to arm and right hand
and one of his thoughts
turns to ivory
The carving is laid aside
in beginning darkness
at the end of hunger
after a while wind
blows down the tent and snow
begins to cover him
After 600 years
the ivory thought
is still warm
Oh hell, there once again hunger
Gets up in the middle of a meal and without
A word departs. I go after: what
Would I be without her?
Night, I am
As old as pain and I have
No other story.
We do not keep to the telegraph lines.
"Is there a map for this?" I call
After. “Is there even
A name for this? I spend my
Life asking, is there even a name
And what a starved path,
Licking stones; often
I am sure one side has eaten the other.
And with what bitterness I remember
I had not yet had my fill
Of dissatisfaction. My mouth
Works like a heart. More and more
I get like shadows ; I find out
How they hate.
And then she is gone.
No astonishment anywhere. The owls
Are digesting in silence.
I will not look up again to learn again
That despair has no star.
Don’t ask me why, I
Lift my feet in their dice-boxes.
I believe I continue
As she would have done, I believe.
Don’t ask me
Why: this time it is not I
Waking the birds. Somewhere
The light begins to come to itself.
As I walk, the horizon
Climbs down from its tree and moves toward me
With offerings. There
At the table which she has set with
The old plates, she is waiting, and to us
The day returns like a friend
It is March and black dust falls out of the books
Soon I will be gone
The tall spirit who lodged here has
On the avenues the colorless thread lies under
When you look back there is always the past
Even when it has vanished
But when you look forward
With your dirty knuckles and the wingless
Bird on your shoulder
What can you write
The bitterness is still rising out of the old mines
The fist is coming out of the egg
The thermometers out of the mouths of corpses
At a certain height
The tails of the kites for a moment are
Covered with footsteps
Whatever I have to do has not yet begun