I fly over the Bering Sea toward Nome.
In the breaking ice are turquoise lakes in which
I can see the sky.
The cargo load, so heavy with human need,
vibrates to my bones.
I walk from the plane and am met by an old friend.
We drive to the launching place.
Walrus hunters set out toward the sea.
We swing to the summer camps where seal hangs on drying frames.
This is what it feels like, says her son, as we walk up tundra
toward a herd of musk oxen.
There is a shaking, and then you are in mystery.
Little purple flowers come up from the permafrost.
A newborn musk oxen staggers around its mother’s legs.
I smell the approach of someone with clean thoughts.
She is wearing designs like flowers and a fur of ice.
She carries a basket and digging implements.
Her smell is sweet like blossoms coming up through the snow.
She is the spirit of the tundra, she tells me without speaking.
We do not need words or the books of history to know who we are
or where we come from, I tell him.
Up here, we are near the opening in the Earth’s head, the place where the spirit leaves and returns.
Up here the edge between life and death is thinner than dried animal bladder.
Walk with the sky between your teeth.
c Joy Harjo Nome, Alaska 2011