Elders say that when I was a child, we once
Walked the desolate path, across death-island,
Venturing close enough to see their snow-filled
Boats, ice-crushed sailing ships, bodies of dead
Qallunaat, diseased and starved, who knew not
Inuit ways or guiding spirits, making food of
Their dead, horrid island of frozen bones.

As a young woman now, I understand brutal
Strength of our land, to seek and follow wisdom
Of our people, guidance of Holy Ones, wolf-like
Spirits, cub-caring or caribou-stalking, to protect
Or to kill, as fate decides, ways of our shaman,
To gather food, avoid disease, and survive long
Migrations, winters bleak and cold.

Approaching barren river bend, women whisper
This place is accursed, that no woman with
Child should come closer, as spirits of the dead
Will claim new life carried within, wayward
Strangers conquered by choking ice. Mocking,
Inuk men tout their superstitions, spirits hence
Frightened off by howling winds, blowing snow.

Yet, as I stare upon bone-cluttered boats, I feel
Kicking within my womb, a weathered skull, hollow
Eyes peering deep in me, stark teeth speaking
To my mind, desirous of new life rooted in my
Rounding abdomen. Wandering spirit, desolate
And lost, I accept you dead sailor as my child,
Rescued from this horrid island of frozen bones.

"Man Proposed, God Disposed," Edwin Henry Landseer, 1854, Wikimedia photo.
“Man Proposed, God Disposed,” Edwin Henry Landseer, 1854, Wikimedia photo.

 

 

 

 


This poem refers to the Arctic-dead officers and sailors, (qallunaat or white men) of the lost 1845 Franklin Expedition who died of starvation and disease in the Canadian High Arctic on King William Island man-hauling lifeboats, some attempting to reach Back River.  

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