30 Poems I Am Most Proud Of #10

Between 1950 and 1970 the Canadian government ordered the slaughter of hundreds of Inuit sled dogs. Their motive? To destroy the Inuit way of life.

Much of my inspiration for On Sea Ice was provided by a documentary entitled Echo Of The Last Howl. (Have you ever read such an emotive title before?) The last two lines of the poem are the words of Johnny Munick, an Inuit whose dogs were already in their harnesses, eager to get the day started when they were massacred…

 

On Sea Ice

You understand now,

and for the first time in

your long life you whine.

 

I remember your opening

breath. The sun was but a pale

spot in the sky. You sucked

your mother’s milk off my fingers.

 

The air is sour with the scent

of weeping. We will never venture

south, over the sea ice for supplies,

then together come home again.

 

You started weak, but are

now powerfully built, with

an imposing physique.

 

Loyalty, affection, intelligence

all run marrow deep, but

they know none of this,

the mounted police.

 

To them, you’re nothing

but a risk.

 

They don’t know we use

your urine for medicine.

They don’t understand

that dogs equal life.

 

My children have

to bury their puppies.

 

You were looking forward

to the hunt today, but now

your sister miscarries while

she dies. Your brother trails

blood over the hill as second,

third, fourth shots fail to kill.

 

The others have no way

to return home.

 

On our hunts, I would shout Nanuq!

You all knew what I meant,

 

You howl in pain. A bastard

in red missed your heart.

He takes another suck

on a cigarette before he makes

you ready for the fire.

 

The smell will draw the bears.

 

The distance for furs and food

will be dangerous now, exhausting.

 

I  take your fur as they light

the first piece of driftwood,

and cradle your heavy heart

in two hands.

 

In my ears there will always

be the echo of your last howl.

 

I have nothing now.

I have nothing.

 

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