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Phrases Strong and Perfect

Inupiaq tribe - White Mountain, Alaska

To the Eskimo, glances are actions. And of actions,

they leave a bright trail to read

so that when two crows hit against the glass window

where Linky was, she said, something has happened!

She said nothing comes here without significance, that

even the wind blows as God’s breath

shaking the willows, taking its leaves. She said

what I said, that even dusk talks in long sentences of color;

everything that shifts, moves, but not only for itself

like the sun dropping a strong phrase of light

on a child, like the child giving a crow call

the same moment Linky sights the birds.

This is what the cold has taught. How the world is

of words though no one is speaking

how the days went as this day went,

which has nothing to do with time.

''Phrases Strong and Perfect'' is in Frozen Latitudes.

The poem first appeared in the journal Cold Mountain Review

Linky ice-fishing on Fish River

On White Mountain: Before school, before the yellow moon fell behind the snow-covered tundra, I walked down the mountainside to have coffee with two Eskimo sisters: Linky and Rose. They were elders. They managed the cafeteria, feeding forty-five children a day, grades K-12. Food is flown in on a bush plane that lands on top of White Mountain, and is loaded onto wooden sleighs.

A crow hit against the glass window of the cafeteria one morning. The poem shares Linky's reaction. Something has happened! she said. It was then that I realized these sisters held within them, the wisdom of the ancients -- which is to say they knew all things were connected. All that happens, has reason. All that is alive, communicates. Thus, "Phrases Strong and Perfect."

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