Tongue of Open Water
In my dreams I am fully ice-covered,
but when I awaken to warm storms
and waves, I am shredded thin.
My bed no longer hugs the coastline
where walrus haul their bellies
across stone and ice to birth their young.
Ice now moves in later, vanishes sooner,
and hunters travel for days and days.
What do I make of this?
They say I am an indicator of oceanic influences,
but maybe I have convinced myself
of this importance. All I know is this condition
shows no signs of absorbing into my surface
layer, no signs it recognizes familiar
patterns, or knows how to follow the contours
of my landscape; yet somehow fully aware
of the age-old warning—
That I am too fragile to journey alongside
any longer—the loss of my former self,
exposed and gaping.
Common ice bergs washed up on the beach near our houses.
7,800 bergs caught in the sand, wedged between drift logs,
pushed against an old floathouse.
“I saw an eagle carry one off in its talons.”
“I saw a tourist shove one in a satchel.”
Two people on the shore clinked ice in their drinks, toasted
the end of the age.
The USGS claims there have been other die-offs,
most recently in 2000, but this is the worst they’ve seen.
This is a regular part of their life history. It could be
strong winds, or storms. Maybe the ice is starving.
We are flooded with calls, wetting our feet, melting
The official officially says it will likely turn out to be
something that has the potential
for population-level effects: It’s off the charts.
They’re dying en masse. They’re wicked-skinny,
highly unusual disoriented bergy bits.
Biologists, geologist, glaciologist, and citizen scientist
everyone holds dead ice
at a noticeable level—the number of carcasses,
bobbing and rolling and cracking and smacking
suggests they ingested something that is likely us.
Our toxic-analysis is pending. It’s six times the normal.
Someone will present a paper at the next symposium.
Someone will say a prayer at the glacier’s terminus.
Someone will roll ice across the hot skin of the Earth.
*Inspired by Massive seabird die-off lines Whittier beaches with carcasses by Zaz Hollander, Jan. 5, 2016, Alaska Dispatch News; Murre die-off around Kachemak Bay estimated to be in the thousands by Daysha Eaton, KBBI, Dec. 26, 2015.
A Thousand Words for Snow
And what of the old ones
who walked out of the lavvu alone
with only a thin deer hide to lay upon the tundra.
It was a good night, star-cindered and cold.
He lay there, fleece frosting his eyelids
watching northern lights, awaiting his ancestors.
When he still recalled his dreams,
he told how the world was melting,
But no one can imagine
raŧŧi skoarádat suovdnji šuohmir
the absence of our footprints,
how the tundra flowers press into bog
with the sting of snow’s memory.
On this cold night he evoked the words:
Winter way made by driving reindeer (in harness) over the snow.
The kind of going in which one hears a grating noise as the sleigh
or skis pass over a rough surface.
Grazing hole dug by reindeer in the snow in order to feed.
Particle of ice in the shape of a needle…
*Northern Sámi language. The Sámi (also spelled Saami) are the 100,000 Indigenous inhabitants of Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Russian Kola Peninsula. There are approximately 30,000-plus Sámi living in the U.S.
Vivian Faith Prescott is a fifth generation Alaskan of Sámi heritage, born and raised on the small island of Wrangell, Alaska. She lives in Wrangell at her family’s fishcamp. She holds an MFA from the University of Alaska and a PhD in Cross Cultural Studies from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Vivian is a recipient of an Alaska Literary Award, a Rasmuson Fellowship and the Jason Wenger Award for Literary Excellence. Her poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Cirque, Yellow Medicine Review and elsewhere. She is the author of a full-length poetry collection and four chapbooks.