The lives and culture of the Inuit, the natives of the Arctic, has inspired my work for years. These kind, honest, brave people are seeing their great white north disappear faster than they can blink. The melting of the Arctic’s ice makes me all the more determined to play a part in documenting the Inuit’s ways, before they are lost to the sea forever.
In Inuit culture, it is common practice to name a newborn child after the last member of the family who died. This enables the person to live on through the infant. This poem is told from the perspective of an Inuit man remembering his father and their life together.
The night you decided not to come back
from sleep, I knew. I didn’t close my eyes.
Instead, I remembered all you had taught me.
To turn the polar bear’s head to the sun,
so he can find his way home.
How to keep my chin and cheeks
from getting blackened by cold.
How to find the base of my grief,
manage it with company of friends,
my dogs and narwhal meat.
You had a smile for death. I heard
no gasp of sadness, no struggle,
no unwillingness to let go.
You went as quietly as a seal
from its breathing hole.
You taught me that to make a tattoo
I would need a bone needle, thread
blackened in the soot of a stone oil lamp.
You taught me that during pregnancy,
a woman should not eat caribou tongue,
marrow or innards, nor the front paws of any animal.
When I was a child, you recollected how
my mother sliced through my umbilical cord
with a slither of ice, then licked me clean.
How I cried out, demanding a name.
You swallowed worlds, regurgitated them
as stories, when the sea froze, the days
started to get dark and another kind of cold.
It has been almost a year since I took
the white man’s liquorice
out from your pockets
and shared it with the children.
Almost a year since we dressed you
in your most beautiful winter garments,
carefully placed stones across your body.
I have come to you, nearly every day,
to talk, softly, about the people, our village.
My wife’s belly is tight with child.
I put my head close, and can hear
the powerful echo as he turns.
He will have your name.