Hot and Cold Days in Poetryville
There’s a tale from my life as a transportation planner behind the first poem today. I was working for a private-sector firm that was working with a county council on their Local Transport Plan. My supervisor and I were meeting the head of transport planning and his deputy. I can’t remember quite why I was so tired, other than maybe that I’d been on a long train trip the previous day to a different council to work on their transport plan as well. I do remember suddenly jerking myself awake as the meeting was in progress! I know my supervisor noticed, though I don’t know whether either of the client representatives did! This poem wasn’t intended to directly relate that experience, rather to illustrate that feeling when you are in a long and boring meeting, on a hot day and sleepiness is threatening to strike!
how many clocks
like ladybird circles
on the windows of hot summer;
from one to yet another
The effect I was trying to create through the short and irregular length lines, was to portray the way your attention can drift … and then snap back into focus as you try to ward-off the onset of a snooze.
The Kapluna Effect
Light seeps in
dusting its knuckles on the smoky pane
hitting the walls
tessellated icy white
curved like a golf ball
gutted of its stringy elastic insides;
you can feel the warmth
an emanating promise
from the sleeping furs
a little matted
a little ragged;
outside the blizzard blows
it did yesterday
it will tomorrow
the bone-chilling wind,
restrained by caribou hide
stretched across the tunnelled door,
howls like a demon
rasping and raw;
at night the picture-house-like shadows
dance in the kudlik’s glow
like ghosts taking fright;
and then the youngest says
“Aama, Mum, I wanna be vegetarian”
and I’m like
“and what will you eat child, snow?”
Now I think back, I can’t remember which came first — the chicken or the egg. Did I read a book about eskimo life first, inspiring me to write a poem about eskimo life, or did I want to write a poem about eskimo life, leading me to read books on eskimo life to inform it? What I do know is that I read a lot about eskimo life in order to ground my poem in an awareness of Inuit life.
The most insightful book I read was Never in Anger: Portrait of an Eskimo Family by anthropologist Jean Briggs, after she had spent seventeen months with an eskimo family. The word list glossary provided three Inuit words that I use in the poem, begining with the poem’s title.
The Inuit word kapluna is what the Inuit of that area use for a white man, or foreigner. It relates to how the outside influence of a different culture and a different set of values, can erode the traditional way of life. I had intended to include a footnote at the end of the poem to translate the three words, but somehow that got overlooked.
The eskimo words are transcribed phonetically, because the Inuit language is a spoken one rather than a written one. The second Inuit word in the poem is kudlik. This word can be found spelled with a q instead of the k, but I used the versions of words most frequently found in Never in Anger. A kudlik is an oil-burning lamp that is used for heat as well as light. It is typicaly fueled by fat, such as the blubber from animals that the Inuit have killed for food and fur.
The third Inuit word I used doesn’t need any additional translation, because I translate it in the line in which it appears. Aama is the Inuit word for mum or mother. In this line the young daughter of the eskimo family demonstrates the effect of western culture and notions creeping into Inuit life, when she surprises her mother by announcing that she wants to be a vegetarian. As the mother adroitly observes, there ain’t a lot else to eat, other than meat and snow (of which there are 50 different words used to describe it). On which note, I think I’ll go turn the kudlik up 🙂