from Letters to Johanna

circles of light nibbled your wedding ring
your fingers clenched just and unclenched push
the midwife fluttered between the kitchen table
and quivering kettle hunters in Niaqornat lay
on the tuvaq listening for a whale the sea
drowned their harpoons the midwife’s hook
broke the waters the ice squirmed and split
the baby launched her membrane umiak
the howl of sledge dogs the strain on their chains
the whoosh of Dorthe the hunters’ hurrah
your blessing Johanna a blessing for Dorthe
a song for the whale

                                 *

once I dreamt oil from the Exxon Valdez
crept all the way from Alaska into Niaqornat
we ran down to the stony beach tripping over
towels and blankets sea birds sea otters seals
cormorants in their thick slick shrouds eyes open
eyes closed eyes missing Johanna you the first
and longest in the water day after day tender wiping
and wrapping the dead the injured in words
from sad anchor songs

                                 *

I’ve never forgotten Olayuk climbing the rise home
calling snow geese with his nose flute telling us
he’d married in a chapel powered by ice telling us
he’d woken the next morning singing to himself
Olayuk pushing back his caribou hood stamping back
towards the sea shouting no one will remember me!

                                 *

the little snow girl your Alfred built the last time
he ever walked how her arms opened wider every day
how like him she faded in a rind of sea ice sea smoke
prayers of the morning prayers of the evening
his thin bruised hands

                                 *

cries of pink footed geese made smooth with leaving
still float around Niaqornat cries that suspend you
Johanna between waking and sleeping today your
house perched on tongues of slippery wood seems
jittery maybe it hears the rage of carbon and methane
these days the melt is so much earlier we’ve hardly time
to hunt or store meat like we did it’s been ages since I’ve
heard a whale last month the air warmer than bone
what have we learnt about ice?

 

 


[Kerrin P. Sharpe has published four collections of poetry (all with Te Herenga Waka University Press, Wellington, NZ). She has also had poems published in a wide range of journals both in NZ and overseas including Oxford Poets 13 (Carcanet Press), Blackbox Manifold, Poetry (USA), PN Review, and Stand.]

 

Copyright © 2022 by Kerrin P. Sharpe, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.

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