Apprenticeship for the Walking Life
Did you learn to love to hike
on those long tundra walks when I carried
you cocooned inside my parka, the one
you wear now on polar vortex nights?
We rambled over the frozen lagoon,
and then past the singing Wulik.
Together, we traversed the hummocky
waves of Alaska’s permafrosted tundra.
Sometimes, I sang but mostly my Sorels
sawed through the snow, a sound similar
to tuning an old tuba. Nights came early,
at two in the afternoon, a pale, ulu-shaped
moon rose. Riding abu, your world
was primarily sound then: ptarmigans hurdled
into flight, a snowy owl mewed being chained
to an old log, one that had ridden
the sea currents all the way from Siberia.
Now I walk the Griffy Lake trails,
cross fallow fields, pace beside the endless
railroad tracks. Car lights point and shoot,
and once or twice a year, a pale aurora
hangs over our subdivision. Sometimes snow
floats down, sometimes moths bat against the light,
and in spring magnolias shed your favorite blossoms.
Keep walking, daughter, over the fallow flanks
of your mountain college town,
as far from me as these stars that sketch
animal shapes across the night. Be comforted
for the stars although distant burn bright and this same
sky stretches over the arctic world, the world
you left behind before you realized you were
learning to speak in two languages, English
and Inupiaq. Before memory photographed
any of this for you: frazil, shuga, the aurora borealis,
before you realized we were two
separate beings going our own ways.
abu: an Inupiaq word for carrying a baby on your back inside a parka for warmth.
ulu: a short-handed knife now made from old saws used by the Inupiat to cut frozen meat or fish.
Doris Lynch has recent poems in Frogpond, Tipton Poetry Journal, Contemporary Haibun Online, and Modern Haiku and in several anthologies. Finishing Line Press published her chapbook Praising Invisible Birds in 2008, and the Indiana Arts Commission awarded her three individual artist’s grants, two for poetry and one for fiction. She has lived in places as diverse as an Inupiat village in arctic Alaska, Yogyakarta, Indonesia, New Orleans, LA, Berkeley, CA and, for nearly thirty years, in Bloomington, IN.