The Alaska Poems started with
my arrival there in the fall of 1973 and continued to evolve
after my departure in 1978. I was mesmerized by the images
of animals and people passing over the land bridge and by
the fundamental impulse that moved the herds to migration.
The book begins in the Village and tells of an elderly Eskimo
woman and her spiritual migration, how "she carried her
tired body as far as she could and then left it behind on
the tundra." In the small village of Point Lay while
observing gray whale migrations, I experienced perhaps the
most peaceful days of my life.
"Night, the silent hunter
breaches the deep in the old umiak (skin boat) of darkness."
The last poem in this section
tracks the final voyage of Vitus Bering. This poem is based
upon the actual logs of the brutal expedition that claimed
Alaska for Russia.
The poems move from the village to a one-room cabin north
of Fairbanks. Here one discovers the isolation and darkness
of the "ages of arctic ice". I recall coming upon
salmon in a creek at the end of their run:
"We are all forced by some
map of memory to the ground of our making in the shallows
pools of the infinite."
Four years in construction camps from the Yukon River to Prudhoe
Bay revealed trailer cities replete with gambling, murder
and prostitution. These camps housed life-long construction
boomers from Greenland, India and Africa living in their cars
and tents waiting for jobs in the crowded, smoke filled union
halls. The camps were home to twenty thousand men and women
from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez looking for big money like the
gold miners of yesteryear.
Surrounding the camps beyond
the Brooks Range and the tree line was a world of visions,
the wilderness of space, the dream like state of fox pups
loping across the flats in search of goose eggs. It is where
"the poem as sanctuary for
the images of the earth, the ancient stone where all my people
It is where I sensed in the air,
the animals, the earth and the weather a living mythology
and the possibility that
"In the obedient core of
planets, an unnamed god wildly dances."