Excerpt from “Travels in Beringia”
November 23, 2010 § Leave a comment
Poem: “Travels in Beringia”
After the floods, a scattered wreckage,
animal bones encased in permafrost, a bridge
eaten by fish, the last pieces of a long
dead world alive in broken
stories, frozen marrow
blasted by snow on the final
islands drifting through the north.
Sunday News: A circus train derailed, toppled off the tracks and an elephant escaped out of a torn hole in a train car, stomping into the forest, the heavy snow, knocking spruce boughs with floppy ears.
Policemen and animals trackers searched all winter but not even German Shepherds could sniff out the elephant. A tropical creature, most people assumed it would die from starvation and the cold.
Deep in a valley—steep walled, forested—an eighty-year-old woman lived alone in her cabin undisturbed through the winter.
One morning, early spring, as she sat on her porch, a thin elephant stepped into her yard. She raised a shotgun to her shoulder and fired—Bam Bam.
Newspaper reporters came from the city, asked why she killed the elephant. “I just want to be left alone,” she said. “Can’t you see I want to be alone?”
In Siberia, the television camera hung
over a stove, circuit boards and casing
dangling from the ceiling to dry like the meat
and pelt of an animal. On the tundra,
snowy owls flew away as we searched
for mammoth bones and skin, genetic
codes to waken the dead. In Alaska,
where the whale hunters live, the snowy
owls flew past satellite dishes tracking the sky
for missiles. Young women showed me
how to catch lemmings in a graveyard and
lay them shivering on the snow for owls
to see and swoop down, talons out,
killing for the camera. When the owls
lifted off from the tundra in Siberia,
away from the lens, they flew towards
Black Mountain, where slaves mined
uranium and didn’t come out alive.
On this journey
madness follows like a dog in love with a bitch in heat.
Imagine a cabin in Attu, in the Aleutian
Islands between Siberia and Alaska
where a bridge a thousand miles wide
once sprawled, a plain to hunt steppe
bison and reindeer, wooly mammoths
with ivory tusks, roaming a land now
gone, flooded with salt water, in winter
choked with piled ice, impassable
shards in the darkness of the Bering Sea.
Imagine being a snowy owl, not the ones that go south for the winter, to the fence posts beside airports in Edmonton and even Boston, watching for mice as the planes roar by, think of those owls who fly over the Bering Sea as the darkness settles in for months, soaring in the blackness with only ice below and no lemmings or mice or small birds to feed on, further out to the centre of the sea, to an opening of dark waters, a black lake where eider ducks hunker in the constant night.
On this journey, the urge to return to the crunch
of snow, to go back to crisp air in the throat, the sharp
stab of ice in the bone is sanity, a thin
fringe of solitude and belonging,
out there, a little bit further into the bush.