Biologists in Alaska see a fifth year of significant seabird die-offs.
Besides unusually large amounts of dead birds
ghosts. That is,
there is memory of birds so thick
of impossible angles
there is memory of boats
in the water
thick with fish.
Now the girls are losing
Now the bodies sink.
Now the river is a harbinger
a garment grieving
a bit of red thread
a tangle of shine
Thomas, you showed us the women
could be bird.
You showed us the women
knew how to fly
You showed us a Stream
these days could still be
This time I think we should
aim for fish, something plated
slippery & fit
for the waters to come
something with teeth
capable of pulling their own
heavy with seed
We Became Pieces so the Whole Would Survive
I have so much to tell you that I hardly know where to begin / and / I am afraid / … / I will not know where to end.
We took the long way to Kennecott to pick raspberries and find
the old graveyard
weathered crosses and young men
from the mining years
before the ground was thawed.
Glaciers have their own warning signs. Ice forms
on the margins
cracks under our weight.
The more distance we put between us the taller
the mountains grew. It used to be the river
channeled the other side but lately
the banks are breaking.
The high ground isn’t.
Many areas have seen disappearances
glaciers and ice sheets and rivers
short of the sea—
the face never the same.
I suppose somebody would have made the spotted feather into bedding
and isn’t most of our armor against cold these days?
I was thinking of a hat in need of a feather or two
face like, or
a sharper mask to wear when the men broke through
trying to be small.
Am I predator or prey
they didn’t see me? And they?
That they are not spirits is certain. That my coat is not thick enough
to be still is apparent. The cold get under my skin.
Not bear or fox. I’ve never seen a wolf
in the wild.
They found Ashley before I left.
Before that they found Olivia.
With the necks of 200 birds I could have made a garment
capable of these surroundings
if good enough for the sea. The mothers
would give them stories, stories, stories.
The children would watch, listen and learn.
But there’s the rope the web
with its too-large
My families don’t tell stories, so
I must use the net. Kugyaq atuk’gka.
One, one thousand, two thousand, three thousand, four thousand still waiting to be found.
Amlertut nuumiRat kalikami.
The woman was full of rage.
The woman was full of vengeance.
The woman moved mountains and grew islands in the sea.
The woman was beautiful so beautiful
the cormorants decided to mate with her.
They changed shapes and took turns breeding with the woman
and flew away
and later when the woman had birthed
all the children the cormorants carried them in their mouths
like seed and sowed them all over the world
Does it follow each violent act bears fruit?
I’m supposed to have astonishing heat in my blood but
I think it’s all been let by Now.
Buildings are still dangerous
Unsafe structures and
openings may be present.
The white dog’s teeth left my coat whole but the skin
was broken underneath.
I am guarding the slow heat from the wound.
I want to tell you too it is beautiful, that the walls here
are their own shade of green and where the ice is thin
blue becomes its own north light, but
the human characteristics are most evident
in the lines we cut.
The face falls away. Glaciers don’t grow back.
These openings are old and unmaintained
may be without breathable air.
Do not attempt to go under. Do not attempt to go back
The melt is deep and wi’d’ing.
Dream with Shark
I dreamt my mother placed me in the sun
by the water
I bake so red
I couldn’t take this new skin off
I couldn’t cover this new skin with fur
not even hair
No other shape would adhere
to my new body
no other shape could press into
Mother, what do I do with these arms?
They won’t bend Mother
how do I move these arms?
These poems and the following interview are the third in a regular series guest-edited by Jennifer Elise Foerster.
Abigail Chabitnoy earned her MFA in poetry at Colorado State University and was a 2016 Peripheral Poets fellow. Her poems have appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Boston Review, Tin House, Gulf Coast, LitHub, and Red Ink, among others. She is a Koniag descendant and member of the Tangirnaq Native Village in Kodiak, Alaska, grew up in Pennsylvania, and currently resides in Colorado. Her debut poetry collection, How to Dress a Fish, was recently released from Wesleyan University Press.
“Dream with Shark” from How to Dress a Fish (Wesleyan 2019)