Hills of rust,
ochre, grey, black, and white
where the wind sweeps unimpeded
and the sun relentless beats
with no shade or windbreak.
across plateaus and watch,
press their timeless tracks
on the gravel table-land and the stone hills.
A chilly current
sweeps across a rocky bed,
through gorges and rapids, and sparkles
under a clear blue sky like lapis, campanula--
but lours in the windswept rain and fog.
This land is
easy to get lost in.
One loses scale, an inch is thirty feet, or miles.
The hills and ponds roll on--
and only the river flows to the sea.
Land of death,
stone, and caribou bones
where somehow, something green clings
to a rock or crevice--
and graves are piles of rocks
Their journal in a woodstove,
land like this claimed Hornby, Adlard, and Christian,
lost Franklin and his men. Al Purdy was here,
played piano*, and lived, and Mowat?
crackle beneath my feet
on the way to lapis lazuli and mica,
and where the snow has just melted
winter still grips the tundra.
The crunch of lichens on the gravel table-land,
caribou droppings everywhere, antlers,
reindeer moss. Bonsai outdone,
a garden at my feet, no higher than my shoes:
arctic cotton, dwarf willow, and clumps of caribou hair,
arctic fireweed, avens, wintergreen, mouse-ear
chickweed, and lemmings scamper....
while overhead the falcon dives.
This land takes
me back ten million years,
to life on Mars, or Europa, to the moon.
That life, its tender-toughness could cling
in the face of scouring winds, searing sun, and
boggles the mind,
amazes my feet.
knee frozen or
numb against the icy
side of the canoe, kneeling.
And kneeling to gaze with awe
At the gardens of Lilliput.
paint the stones--
simple as an Amish farm
wagon; the life that's here
begins a minimalist food chain.
Birches and willows creep
on the tundra,
driven down to
such humility by what Calvinist wind?
The People here five thousand years
pressed on with simple tools
of stone and caribou bone.
To love this
land is to love simplicity
and minimalist art, Mondrian,
Japanese stone gardens, haiku,
moss campion, or a single chestnut, polished.
That cry of the
falcon in the sky
over that hill is faint
when the wind is down,
but when the wind blows we huddle
like creeping birch among the rocks,
when it blows we all huddle
like creeping birch among the rocks.
but when the
wind swirls its knife
it roars among the darkened stones
and carves upon the ice.
In this long
the sky leans close, waits
for aurora to draw the curtains.
From a distance
could have been a mine
entrance, a great cavern in the hill,
but, closer, as the wings of myth beat
about its bleak entrance, souls like bats
seem to sweep in and out in the Arctic dusk;
dark curves recline against the rose sky
like coals dying in the ashes of a pyre.
But no Inuit
of this black mole on the side of the hill.
They only travel in winter, they say,
and snow sweeps across the ridges,
drifts on the slopes,
obscures whatever truth lies there
of mythic stones in darkened hills--
so they say. So they say.
And when I asked
I was told they never used them, yet
in Iqaluit I saw a great stone carving
of an Inuit drummer. In Kimmirut the Anglicans
came in 1909 and built a church, and razed
the edifices in their minds, banned drums,
and myths and all except their own.
Banned all except their own.