"Aurora Borealis," Frederic Edwin Church, 1865, Wikipedia photo.
“Aurora Borealis,” Frederic Edwin Church, 1865, Wikipedia photo.

Why do I wander alone on ice floes at night?
Solitude and spiritual renewal. Whilst I love
My family and the people, at times they
Become burdensome beyond being father,
Uncle, elder. As shaman, I require time
Upon the ice, to commune with Creators,
Wisdom of their heavenly arching lights.

First, I tell my family, I would like to walk
Upon the ice, it is my way of indicating that
I have spiritual needs. They say “You are too
Old.” “Polar bears may kill you.” “You will
Become lost.” Our family ritual, once we
Bicker amongst ourselves, they permit me
To wander alone with Arctic night spirits.

Tonight calling is different. Great light cur-
Tains shimmer overhead, tingle on my arms,
Old Ones beckon me to wander on sea ice past
Where I have ventured. Atop ice hummocks,
I chant spells, my breath as ice crystals wind-
Streaming to Tomarssuk, polar bear god, he
Approaches, knowing we could kill each other.

Ten paces away, he growls, teeth bearing. Open
Hands I show him, flesh and bone to devour,
His divine light is present, holy spirit within,
Communion with ancient Arctic gods, our brief
Acceptance as friend and foe, tonight we have
Mutual trust and understanding, great mysteries
He conveyed to my anxious soul.

Explorers from another land will visit, known
As qallunaat, their leader a healer amongst their
People, their sailing ship stuck in frozen ocean.
Radiant gold and red visions from above, Old
Ones enlightened me, ship and mountains unlike
I have seen, to learn our ways, to search for open
Polar oceans, return safely to their homes.

More than this I cannot explain because words
Are inadequate. How does one explain the gods
And their ways, or these strange foreigners? By
Faith and fear, I walk in holy ways, not in perfect
Step, that is impossible. I serve our people, those
In greatest need, is to glorify Arctic gods, fulfill
Their holy wishes and my destiny.

An exquisite example of 19th century Arctic art, this poem uses Frederic Church’s “Aurora Borealis” as Jacopee’s vision of Isaac Israel Hayes, MD over-wintering and searching for the legendary Open Polar Sea.
For more on this painting, see link:
http://americanart.si.edu/collections/search/artwork/?id=4806

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