Ötzi: High Altitude Hunter

[Ötzi, a 5300 year old Chalcolithic (Copper Age) European mummy,
was found by two German tourists on the slopes of the Italian alps on
September 19, 1991; the body was at first thought to be a modern corpse.

Ötzi’s been dead 5,300 years, but thawed only twenty.
Found on an Alpine slope, he lived
before countries, but after copper.
Did Merak and Dubhe still point to Polaris
        when Ötzi stared up seeking North
As they did the evening I shadowed
       crowds across the mall at Lakeside?
Ötzi my kinsman raised his two nephews
Well and strong calming their pulsing blood
And showed them the fire rites as a father
Should so they could climb to ice and prosper.

Legend says he hiked a mile with a spring wind
At his back to reach the first patch of snow
Leading the boys to clever snares set for
Mountain game then sparked moss to fire.

Ötzi, my kinsman, who braced the young
With tales of courage and wit performed
By their father on long ago treks seeking
Ptarmigan and ibex upon far hostile land.

Higher still the three pushed to Alpine air
And burst upon an open vale of flowers
mountain grass and chilled white water
streaming over rocks through a grass carpet…
While the woman at Bank’s, the one
wearing a petite size 4, sipped cool
            chardonnay at an exhibit of furs
With sighs all around  as Ötzi may have sighed
           when he realized that arrow in his shoulder
           meant he’d never see another vale of lowland blooms
                      or the look on his dead brother’s
                      wife when she spotted her nephews’
Silhouettes against the year’s final snow and realized
        their uncle, whose name so often echoed between peaks
Would sound only once again in his honor.

Then I was in Strada staring at Torta di Ricotta,
       sweets beyond Ötzi’s imagination: vanilla & ricotta filled
       pastry tart, toasted almonds & pine nuts with vanilla ice cream
All mixed with a kind of refined sugar he never knew since
His stomach contents revealed a last meal of
deer meat, wheat bran and fruit of the blackthorn tree.
Typically, he was the kind of guy who’d snare a few
         rabbits for a late night snack with root
         vegetables and dried fruit.

Aldo’s offered fine Italian shoes and a deep, soft chair
            that lulled me into a dream of a place
            speckled with edelweiss and a hunched figure
                        that felt my presence and notched
                        an arrow faster than I could turn a key.
He stared at my spectral form
            as I stared back at him through ice and time.
Ötzi’s footware, bearskin sole with deer hide top
            tied with leather, seemed a far cry from
            the gleaming formal footwear on display.

When those German tourists discovered Ötzi’s frozen
         form they took him to be a recently-lost
         climber, but that leather cloak and copper axe
                 made them do a double-take.
 Something about Ötzi’s flint knife and yew bow
        made them stop and think; or, perhaps it was his
        leather loin cloth, bearskin cap and flint-tipped
Arrows that gave them pause.

I cut across a gravel island to Hugo Boss
       just as Ötzi and his nephews
       may have skirted low hills of slate  
                       before suddenly coming upon a small
                       band of strangers field-dressing
An Ibex he’d wounded earlier that day.
Did he extend a similar arrow to show his claim
       to the bloody form only to be rebuffed
       by those jumpy nomads who grabbed
Weapons as his nephews urged him away
      from battle they knew he’d engage
which is when Ötzi’s ankle was first nicked
By an arrow as he skidded on gravel…
As that shopping cart grazed my right knee,
      and I fell cursing, to the dismay of  local matrons;
      but, was nothing to the second arrow
                that pierced his goatskin shirt
                and severed an artery.
Ötzi being the man he was,
         pushed ahead  and urged his nephews ever higher,
           shielding them with his back and, falling, shoved
                  his young charges ahead, speaking in some
                  lost tongue, telling them to escape, to live
While his own fallen body might slow the attackers who were
         eager to examine him for valuables, long enough
         to guarantee the freedom of two young men, giving
Them a chance to find wives and produce
            a lineage that became lithe Milanese
            models and Fiat engineers.

Somewhere lost beneath ice-age debris
            buried in a still secret ravine may lie
            a beaten copper plate forged by Ötzi’s clan;
An etched figure traced above the tree line
            of a high-altitude hunter whose body remained
            untouched by his killers who saw
Power and magic hovering over the old man
            who died clutching a pure copper axe.

With practiced ease I pressed a button
            that opened a door allowing
my well-fed, delicate form
To enter a two-thousand pound,
            steel-encased behemoth and drive
            off wondering if my death will cause
My kinsmen to wail my name in grief
            making the aspen quake.
Ötzi, my kinsmen, this song
            is for us both:
Breathe new air around your life;
Hang my name on yours.



[Burgess Needle is a Tucson writer whose work has most recently appeared in Under the Radar (UK), Decanto (UK), Brittle Star (UK), Blackbox Manifold (UK), Kritya (India) and Concho River Review. Diminuendo Press published a collection of his poetry: Every Crow in the Blue Sky in 2009.]

Copyright © 2011 by Burgess Needle, 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.