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Mar Ka (Mary Kancewick) is the author of Be-hooved, a layered spiritual memoir of her decades in the north, structured along the seasons, and framed my the migration of the Porcupine caribou herd. As an indigenous rights attorney, she travelled to villages throughout Alaska’s largely wilderness state. She has been the recipient of an NEH grant, a New York State Summer Writers Institute Fellowship, and the Midnight Sun Poetry Prize.Her poetry and essays have appeared in national and international journals and anthologies, and on occasion been set to music. She is a long-time judge of poetry for the UAA/ADN Statewide Writing Contest and currently teaches seasonal poetry workshops at the Eagle River Nature Center. Mar Ka is of Lithuanian heritage.

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reflections on belonging

a palmers chronicle right bw

Graphic Novels

Poems from the poetry book "Be-hooved", University of Alaska Press, 2019

 


ORPHAN HOURS

Some nights, submerged leviathans,
intermittently recognized
by dorsal fin patterns,

break the surfaces of deep
marine dreams, breech
occasioning rough wakes,

probing echolocations answered
by the hard-pounding notes
of the central organ.

~

Some nights, tined travelers
with ultraviolet-tuned eyes
recognize us dreamers

slumped under snowy sheets,
like lichens, waiting
to nourish something;

those deep blue winter eyes
see us in the dark
of our imaginings.


~

Some nights, death is just
the summer beach ice wave-stacked
between ocean, coastal plain.

Now, summer ice is not.
Eyes, memory, attest to change.
More than ice, going-going-gone.

When metaphors lose meaning
language, like any beast, becomes
endangered as a species.

~

And we are left to migrate
fluked or hooved through
dark dreams;

and we are left to our efforts
to dive or paw through
dense mediums;

and we are left to cry out
hoping to be, hoping
to be—answered.

 

INTERIOR
—for my two home-places, Alaska and Lietuva

I fly in, this first Arctic spring, like a bird
migrating a yearning rather than a route, landing
among multiple small mirrors, flashing-flashing
seizures of epigenetic memory.

All that angled light haloing the soft hills,
the new leafing of birch and spruce, the complex
scent of stovepipe smoke, rising-rising
from that forgotten place where hearths blazed.

And the river, its fair banks defining,
connecting, place and time, places and times.
Me, here, now, I get the little-hairs-rising-feeling
about a life I haven’t lived, but might.

Above, long-necked, long-legged avians fly in Vs,
a shape both convex and concave. I weep
as my grandmother wept, her tears seeping
from the corners of my eyes, over the soft sides

of a face that recognizes: These are not storks,
but cranes. Both be harbingers of fortune.
That day becomes a golden egg, with its seed
of a winged mind, its sequence of northern—

according to 23 and Me—European
DNA, snaking like a river through
the ages, keeping me indigenous
to that other-occupied land I’d never seen.


 

VILLAGE ASCENSION
—in response to “Bypassing Rue Descartes” by Czeslaw Milosz

I ascend from the river, shy, an intruder,
a non-native person just come to a Native village.

Ashamed to remember the habits of my house
I accept a stew of leftover fall caribou from strangers, wipe my plate clean.
Keep quiet. Keep counsel. Keep trying

to understand what is being misunderstood.
I enter the woods blinded by shade, disoriented.

What options, ways, present themselves? Cut down
the tree? Climb one into sun? Wait for eyes
to adjust to given light?

Meanwhile the village behaves in accordance with its summer nature,
sleeping and waking all hours in the all-hour light,
checking salmon nets in bear-gun weighted boats,
cleaning, cutting, drying the fish gathered like manna—

indifferent to progress, productivity, rising GNPs,
all tended by others in other countries
with different religions and different heavens,
different songs, dances, and things called serpents.


 

NIGHT

Night in the north, lit
by a mirror of snow,
by featherings of ionized glow
swooping through the atmosphere-electric.

Night in the north crackles
through air and ice and smoke,
searching between the angles
for wisps of individual angst.

Night arrives and the homeless receive it into their bones,
because it hones–in where they huddle in street alcoves:
Sometimes it needles, stings, a wasping
not possible to swat away, and potentially lethal.

Those who leave late know from frosted breath that
there will be no caress without consequence:
Booze, opiates, frictionless roads factor into
these nocturnal algorithms.

Night in the north, long,
carries a glittering blade
with which to cut out beating hearts
to animate—something else.


 

IF WE COULD

The moon each month grows new antlers,
drops velvet into the night and,
under foot-thick river ice, sleek beaver fur
parts the dark to carve stars of birch limbs,
of alder, spruce, and willow shoots, and to
eat the shining, and perhaps to be snared
into the light, for blankets and dog food.
We would snare the moon, too, if we could.
You know we would. You know. We would.

 

 

 
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