In A House Apart

Joan Kane

You hurt me, then,
Burnt a bird’s white plumage—
Claim that we are the better for it,
That we will heal in time.

Strident and inaccurate
Despite all proximity,
The mountains no longer
Made me feel better.

The year in its wheel of winter
And its small cylinder of light
In excess. Far pillars could
Resemble human figures

Though only rock rises
From some progression
Of dust, demand, and rotten
Wood. I place my hand on stone

And become stone myself.

Mother Tongues

Through a tangle of alder
I could make passage
A thousand obscure,
Contradictory ways.

Some ruin
Of a renounced thing.
Some measure
For retraction in its red

Declension. By fix
Of milk in saltwater,
Blood in milk.  Our
Division of phrase

From fact.  Mother,
; Woman,
Aġnaq. Already
In naming my sons,

You foresee the last time
We will be able to talk
Together—I, daughterless,
And you, who knew.


Wavelessly, against
Flatland: the ocean,

The sun, hanging.

He carved the light, though
The world remains

Unmoved. Wind furls

Sashes of dry snow
Across the road,

Hoar nacres electrical
Transformers. I was

Cochlear, curving, bone

Handed me the eardrum
Of a bowhead whale—

Veined and furrowed.

Listening, I began
To know so little.

Ugiuvak (King Island)

A line of white birds ends in nothing.
The falling song of women unseen
Twists between rock spires,
Our distant island
Haunted by the numberless.

From the deep shade of the gully.
The water continues to rise.

Unbound from the slum
That backs to black bogs
Surrounded by gravel,

Take us back.

Joan Kane
Joan Kane

Joan Kane is Inupiaq. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Harvard College and her M.F.A. from Columbia University and is the author of a book of poems, The Cormorant Hunter's Wife, for which she received a 2009 Whiting Writers' Award, and a play, "The Gilded," which was commissioned and produced by the Anchorage Museum in 2009.  Her recent honors include a National Native Creative Development grant, a Rasmuson Foundation Individual Artist Award, and a Fellowship from the Alaska State Council on the Arts and the Alaska Arts and Cultures Foundation.  Along with her husband and sons, she lives in Anchorage, Alaska.