07 April 2006

Ann Deagon

[from There Is No Balm in Birmingham by Ann Deagon; originally published by David R. Godine, 1978; second edition by St. Andrews Press, 1997]

Customs of the Esquimaux Women

They do not stalk the caribou
tall-boned over hard white.
Kneeling fur-trousered low to
the bleak of ice they cut one
pure hole, prise up its flat moon.
In under sea the muscled seal
like dark pigs root for air.
One woman loosens furs, dips one
bare breast into the breathing hole:
its nipple spurts a thread of scent.
Seal veer and rise, their snouts
nudge, nuzzle, strike. The woman
screams, they grapple, tug the black
clenched beast on ice, hack off
its head, the woman's cry still coming hoarse,

             Nights in the igloo she crouches,
softens stiff skin between her teeth.
Beside her in a shallow stone
seal blubber flickers the whole night.

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