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.]
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