Milk Black Carbon
Observe the coal dust over boats in the harbor,
the snow load on the glacier. Take in the woman
who pursues a myth to counter another myth.
What dazes, scatters and filters: each respiration
blurs an image. The coal tipple tilts in its new skin.
Meadows blonde. From open shelves, honey jars
tumble to split and spill in the gasp of a temblor.
The thick odor of a nearby smoke will signal the end
of something, not summer. The fire veins as sap does,
translating stands of beetle-killed spruce to crackle
and torch. She cannot hurt too much, too long—
take in the woman you have not become. And
then, take a little breath and hold your breathing.
Breathe, don’t move, and hold your breath again.
A Few Lines for Sherwin Bitsui
“He was completely and openly a mess. Meanwhile the rest
of us go on trying to fool each other.”
The drunk voice of reason hypodescends to the elephant
in the room. Meanwhile, on the drive from Elephant Rock
to Elephant Point there was something about not passing
or passing: it made me more awkward than usual, more
or less visible, shaken and anxious, depressed and aimless
in the way that a bad hangover foregrounds my Eskimo
emptiness. A bad hangover and a bad book idea birdlessly
compound the need to perform to expectations. I think I can
escape the false sense of context surfacing from the stanzas
I happen to make, day after day, all the way back to god-thick
shrines, back before the spilled Guggenwhine, which, after all
serves as a general reminder: squalor, as we know, can work.
Stirring just now from a restorative grotto of pill-and-booze-
induced unconsciousness there list but a few people I loathe
and a smattering whose work I admire, actually. It’s a small
community that discusses and lives amid this stuff all the time.
That wine from the last stanza was good, and not just because
it was wine. Thank you for inviting me to bring it over to this
one. And per contra, the large general audience has little or no
predicate in the issues. Pibloktoq. In their human analogy,
this poem, unlike the last one, is already over, over and over.
Stress puking differs
from party puking &
stress drinking is nothing
like partying. The simile
contradicts the metaphor,
which is to say: Marfa’s
ornamental trees merely flap
in the wind. I mean adverbially
but at least I mean it on purpose.
How many rules of brutish language
can I break in one poem? Also,
who cares for prepositions
or conjunctions exclusive
of their primitive streaks?
No matter, I propose to mount
de novo as master, a mother,
and remnant. Let us rehearse
our apologies as is the custom.
I stir dust into my blood.
Paroxysms felled a swallow’s nest
& so, when told to set out
for want of penitential road-
going I went as usual, never
not able to note the corners,
the fences, the four dark figures
distant before me for miles
before receding, before I was spooked,
truly. The men, all men, refuse to wave.
Their bare hands seem to say:
invisibility is not a metaphor.
At least not in words. I repeat
our lung gusts. The self, if,
as it manages to survive
the cups knocked at once
across the floor, gulps
together on our abandoned page.
JOAN NAVIYUK KANE lives in Alaska with her husband and sons. Her books include The Cormorant Hunter’s Wife, Hyperboreal, The Straits, and Milk Black Carbon. She teaches in the graduate creative writing program at the Institute of American Indian Arts and was a judge for the 2017 Griffin Poetry Prize.