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.

 

 

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