Listening to the Stone

On Inuit Art

And I think over again
my small adventures
when with a shore wind
I drifted out in my kayak
and thought I was in danger.

My fears,
those small ones
that I thought so big
for all the vital things
I had to get and to reach.

And yet, there is only one great thing,
the only thing:
to live to see
in hunts and on journeys
the great day that dawns
and the light that fills the world.

(--Yup'ik song)


Photo (right): National Film Board of Canada.
Photo (left): End of East Coast Sooke Trail, Vancouver Island, BC, photo by Carol Snyder Halberstadt, October 1997.

Suggested reading: a book recently published by Steerforth Press, Give Me My Father's Body: The Life of Minik, The New York Eskimo, by Kenn Harper.

Give Our Regards to Broadway, Minik

He once said that the bright lights of Broadway
had attracted him more than the Northern lights."

From Greenland, the explorer brought them to New York
like seals, to be learned as a foreign song.
Perhaps they too were curious.
You were an otter, Minik, motherless and small.
He gave you the museum, its basement, wisdom,
food, until one by one your people died.
To the scholar, your father was a tree trunk,
wrapped in fur. He buried the log for you,
and boiled the bones.
Some were kind, Minik.
They sent you to school in the Bronx
and when you went north again
it was no longer home.
"Give me my father's body," you said,
until you died, young among friends.

The lights of Broadway dazzled us both, Minik,
tall, and sweet as ice cream,
filled with stories beyond our own
and out of our reach.
They moved our small eyes
into the world it seemed,
stronger than us.
They were bright, Minik,
and their hard light
still burns.

You were stolen.
My parents came from far
when no place was safe,
and neither the strawberries
by the river Prüt
nor the olives of Yavne'el
could feed them.
We learned to sing
by the waters of Babylon
and to bathe in its tides.

I grew as a weed in the Bronx
struggling through sidewalk cracks,
lingering in scruffy lots
walled by the red brick of the city,
remembering an idea of home.
Like you, I have spun out my life
a stranger, at rest on this alien shore.
The light on the brick was warm.

The land is always sacred,
but not always blessed.
Deep in the Earth
there is a bowl of ancient water
from which we drink.
When it is empty,
we too disappear.

Minik was a Greenland Eskimo child of six or seven, brought by Robert E. Peary together with his widowed father and several other Greenland Eskimos to New York City in 1897, "to be studied by the anthropologist Franz Boas at the American Museum of Natural History" where they lived in the basement. His father and three others soon died of TB, and Minik spent the rest of his life trying to retrieve their skeletons from the museum, which continually denied that it had them. After his father's death, he went to live in the Bronx with the museum's superintendent of buildings, and attended a Bronx high school. In 1918, at the age of 27 or 28, he died of the flu in New Hampshire, where he worked as a lumberjack. The story is told by Kenn Harper in Give Me My Father's Body, to be published by Steerforth Press. [Source: The New York Times, 3/15/00, p. B1.]

©3/15/00 Carol Snyder Halberstadt

Listening Figure

She is listening, listening
with such joy
to the stone
that she holds to her ear
in cupped hands.
It is heavy, but she is strong.
Wide thighs fold,
supporting her arms,
as she bends at elbows
and knees, kneeling.
Her eyes lift,
her face rises, playful,
as it comes from the stone
in her hands.





By Pudlo Pootoogook, Cape Dorset, 1967.

Man With A Spirit on His Back

He dances
with a spirit on his back
that has his face,
and wears his hood.
The weight of the spirit
has pulled the hood from his head
and blows through his hair.
He dances
with his arm upraised,
a fist in the air
and a fist behind his back,
eyes half-closed
as the spirit's eyes are opened,
seeking, and howling.
Nearby, a beluga whale rises,
from its fossil fern bed.


"Rising Beluga," by Keemeeru, Lake Harbour, 1974.

"Man with a Spirit on his Back," by Napatchie Ashoona, Cape Dorset, 1995.

Inner Ear

The whelk grows its shell
and the man his skin,
and the head of a whale
is a cavern of music
that its life plays.
Its cochlea curves
so that mountains of sound
and the deep ocean waves
can pass through
and be heard.
Our small ears catch
only the shallows of that speech.



Whale vertebrae and cochleae, whale tooth, and Inuit stone carving of a humpback whale.

Poems from Listening to the Stone ©1997 Carol Snyder Halberstadt

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