When I Return North
Winter’s metabolic still suffices
for calm but each breath is only inhale.
From the plane window the sea ice is lace
lichen, striation, a lithography
repeating south. Migratory
trails of caribou, all desire paths
testify to longing.
Saxifrage is buried under snow.
When I land I am underdressed.
I assemble a new season of myself
which you will not recognize.
Moss, fox fur, feathers complete
my camouflage. An ancient seal tooth
in my pocket, walrus gut on my feet.
Ravens call mechanical from each frost heave
but no birds fly overhead.
The sky opens continuously
and everything holds close to the ground.
Inside the sod shelter shaped
by whale ribs I become
the persistent heart.
Light leaves early and dark
wings fold over each day.
Each line of the poem is an ending.
The beginning passed by
The ice will keep.
Only you will dissolve.
If we measure winter by birch logs and summer by fishes and loaves
If birdsong signals waking and rain signals sleep
If a kettle sings our liturgy of the hours
If we count glaciers like sheep
If feathers equal flight and berries are bodies we swallow
If rush is the book we don’t keep
If a dog’s wisdom is what we live by, a tail’s wag the parameter of joy
and the only objective is sky
If stars are the text and fireflies revelations
If lichen is for laying and moss the place we cry
If ice forms the bridge between us
If ashes are promises and embers reminders why
If stoking is our metaphor for loving and swimming stands for praying
and daily we remind each other how
If we consider ourselves simply another method of chinking
If frost forms the ring, and twilight is the only vow
Photo of northern lights above Arctic sea ice and mountains courtesy Shutterstock.