365 Poems/204 The Vanishing Village of Angikuni (Rough First Draft)
This poem is inspired by the events that occurred one November night 1930 to a trapper named Joe Labelle. Labelle approached a small Inuit village off Lake Angikuni in Canada to find that it empty. However there was no sign of a struggle. The villagers had simply vanished, leaving food cooking, rifles near doors and their sled dogs.
The Vanishing Village of Angikuni
I work to fight the cold curdling
my blood to slush. The Arctic night
pushes hard upon my shoulders. It wants
me to take all of its weight for a while.
Fatigue eats from my feet up, but I don’t
have to worry much longer. Inuit are
good folk, will feed me hot fish.
On the outskirts of the settlement,
62 degrees North, I shout a greeting
in direction of rough hewn huts.
But my own voice comes back
to meet me. My snowshoes loud
as trees felled into ice crusted drifts.
The absence of children’s voices,
crackling with sleep unsettles my heart,
sends it to all corners of my body,
but not back to its original place.
The full moon waits.
There is no smoke to meet it.
I hold hands with fear, stagger past
wave battered kayaks. I pull back
caribou skin flaps on one hut,
then another and another.
A scream moves at the back
of my throat, but only a whimper
escapes. I sound like my son
when he’s still awake and hears
the wolves gather.
A pot of stewed caribou,
thick with mould. A child’s
half mended sealskin coat, bone
needle imbedded, deserted mid-stitch.
There is no sign of a struggle.
In every hut, a single rifle leans
on the wall beside the door.
I revisit my flesh for the first time
in many hours, as I near the border
of the village. The iced burial ground
is open, graves are crevasses, only
I can see to the bottom and they are vacant.
I spot sled dog, carcasses tied with
thick rope to scrubby trees.
I leave quickly, humming hymns.
The mounties think I sing colourful songs
of the North, until they themselves smell
moulded caribou, spot loaded rifles,
and find no footprints.