Joan Naviyuk Kane

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.”


—Denis Johnson



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.

This Year



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.


Author photo of poet Joan Naviyuk Kane

JOAN NAVIYUK KANE lives in Alaska with her husband and sons. Her books include The Cormorant Hunter’s WifeHyperborealThe 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.