Two Poems by Kelsea Habecker

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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
     without notice.
     The ice will keep.
     Only you will dissolve.



I Will

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




Kelsea Habecker is a poet, writer, and teacher. Her book of poems, Hollow Out, was published by New Rivers Press. She lived in the Arctic for five years, as a teacher in an Inupiaq Eskimo village.

Photo of northern lights above Arctic sea ice and mountains courtesy Shutterstock.

  1. “When I Return North” is a striking eco poem. While I’m sure Ms. Habecker literally was likely to have flown on small planes from time to time while living in the Arctic, this poem departs from the realistic narrative, the poem instead unfolding in the mythic mode. The plane comes to be an agent and symbol of our modern human-dominated world and the Age of Fossil Fuels. It is in the Age of Fossil Fuels when the sea ice over which the plane flies “is lace.” Upon landing and leaving the machine that allowed the narrator to rise above the earth, the narrator is “underdressed” — out of synch with the season and place — out of synch with the natural. Within the physics of the poem, the narrator enters a mythic reality and state, morphing with something that feels like the dream supernaturalism I feel when looking at photographs of ancient cave paintings: “I assemble a new season of myself / which you will not recognize. / Moss, fox fur, feathers complete / my camouflage.” Such beautiful lines. Hers is camouflage from the Anthropocene Age, as the narrator returns to a natural mode that is not destructive of the Holocene. It’s interesting that the call of the ravens sounds “mechanical,” reminding the reader of the plane and the modes symbolized by the plane. However, there the narrator leaves what is sometimes now called the “post-natural world.” The poem continues to unfold mythically, with the feel of the narrator returning to womb — a return to a mode from which to be reborn — with her entering an earthen shelter of whale bone and sod — apart from the world of planes — where “everything holds close to the ground.” As a heroic figure within the laws of the poem’s created myth, the narrator states,”I become the persistent heart.” While climate change can’t literally be affected by our escaping to or choosing any particular place, the poem’s mythic mode of expression creates “a new season of myself” — which might become a wider new season of human selfhood, one where the ice is transformed from melting “lace” to where “[t]he ice will keep.” It is a new season of the Anthropocene being replaced by the Ecozoic, when the arrogant obliviousness of human progress is changed from melting polar ice caps to human acceptance of a humility of being one part of a natural order. Instead of a species whose hubris would melt a planet’s ice, the narrator chooses an alternative mode of being where “[o]nly I will dissolve.” Thanks to for featuring this gorgeous poem.

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