New Poem/The Old Inuit (Rough First Draft)
Between 1900 and 1922, in the Eastern Canadian Arctic a village was decimated by famine. An elderly couple were struggling to stay alive and when they were visited by their daughter, son-in-law and grandchild, the old man took the opportunity – while his daughter and her husband were outside building their own igloo – to kill his granddaughter and eat her.
This is a rough first draft of a poem I’ve written about the event.
The Old Inuit
The old Inuit and his wife run fingers
across each other’s rib cages,
whispering about seal meat and entrails,
as they lie under aged caribou hides.
The village is starving. Every morning
someone else dies, and the air tastes bitter.
From a great distance come the couple’s daughter,
their son-in-law, their little girl, the size of the husky
pup crying outside, dying in a shallow bed of snow.
The son and daughter wet their throats,
leave to put their own igloo together.
The little girl sleeps and the tip of an ivory
knife pricks her tiny heart.
She is cut into fist sized pieces, dropped
into a stone pot and cooked.
The old Inuit man eats everything, picks
her black hair out from between his rotting teeth.
His daughter returns, hiding from the cold.
She says nothing.
The winds curve to the west. She leaves again,
hoping her father a furious bellyache.
She knows her daughter would have given
a poor battle. She was almost strong.
She says to her husband have you ever
seen a fat wolf before? That is my father now.
He says nothing, continues cutting snow.
The old Inuit, lips greasy, sleeps, while
his granddaughter’s meat make
his arteries sticky and winter howls on.
One morning, weeks after the old Inuit
had digested his granddaughter,
he son shout. They will hunt seal.
They will be valiant. They will eat.
Eight hunters surrounded seal breathing
holes, the wind cold at their backs. They wait.
They wait, bodies stiffening. The smell
the first seal of spring before they catch him.
They share the liver in celebration.
The old man leans in to cut a piece,
is pulled back. In absolute silence
he is stripped naked. The ice underneath
quietly starts creaking.
His struggle home is fierce. Each step
earns a scream as the cold enters
his bloodstream, his bones.
When he finally bends at the entrance,
to home, his frozen spine snaps.
The family hear the clear sounding
crack and without words, his wife
and son pull his stiff body inside,
while his daughter stocks the fire.