Joan Kane is the author of The Cormorant Hunter’s Wife and Hyperboreal. She has received a Whiting Writer’s Award, the Donald Hall Prize in Poetry from AWP, the USA Projects Creative Vision Award, an American Book Award, the Alaska Literary Award, and fellowships from the Rasmuson Foundation, Alaska State Council on the Arts, Alaska Arts and Cultures Foundation, the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation, the School for Advanced Research, and Alaska Pacific University.
Kane graduated from Harvard College, where she was a Harvard National Scholar, and Columbia University’s School of the Arts, where she was the recipient of a graduate Writing Fellowship. Inupiaq with family from King Island and Mary’s Igloo, she raises her children in Anchorage, Alaska, and is on the faculty of the low-residency MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. New work will appear in POETRY Magazine and The Best American Poetry 2015.
It could have been yesterday,
Trying to learn a pattern of water
On water or a road I thought
Prophesied and never found.
Against the backdrop of valley
I lost the flock as it flew past
For no known reason at all,
A sudden and small consolation.
I saw skins hung on rain-wet willows.
I could not fix in mind or memory
The terrible road or where it led.
Perhaps it was sleep moving
Against me, its round hill
Swelling against a flat landscape.
Iris of eye gives evidence of the sea
Growing larger, an obscured sky.
Casts over, scatters and rains.
Of a day that will not want to end,
Tomorrow shall be longer.
To the south of those who live south of us—
I will visit unknown men, hunt up the invisible
Behind the women.
It is both a bluster and a promise,
The day immature, blunt in its newness.
I do not know what steals me
Above the spines of mountains.
I trespass to hear the sound of the sea,
Its resemblance to a summit of wind.
Child, I pare off. The swallows
Have disappeared into their banks
And emerged as wolves. Expect
A bird of beak and tooth, the steep
Fetch, the sigh of new-formed ice.
The Cormorant Hunter’s Wife
Black birds luster in sleep above a rough
Sea, and he is all suspension from a length
Of rope before descending to snap ten
Long necks, one after another. Cormorants
In death are just lustrous: swollen from day’s
Plunging, distended with fish. He wants
To own his weighty bounty upwards,
But she in cunning cuts his cord and turns
To the other in her husband’s falling.
Implausible travels from a scar of rock,
And a return that needs no telling.
Is it her failing: the cormorant hunter’s wife
Feels no ill will all winter until the spring,
When, in a glutton’s plumpness with her black
Hair lustered, he buries her beneath a sum of stones
And himself plunges with the downdrafts under.
Variations on an Admonition
I have played with the skulls of seals
And feigned them to be children.
I will tell you of the black spot
Constantly before me—
I had tried hard to make land,
But the coast has altogether vanished.
I ask you keep your eyes shut
Until the sound of the swarm
Above has passed, that you mind not
A certain brightness. After all,
I have whittled you into life-size—
I will divide you into many men
With time for me to gather
The bones of all sorts of animals
And stir life into them.
to lead me to me
to lead you next
to colors all wet:
bark saturated brown,
where lichen scurries up the trunk
of a tree that needs it.
You make me wonder about thirst,
the way things work together.
Boughs once empty fill with birds
in rapid flickering flight until beat, wingbeat,
winged threat: a magpie I try to wish away.
I ask, do not disappear.
That is no kind of apology
and I have never been a forgiver.
The green part of me never leaves
however I find that it remains with you.
However I find it in you
you must remember I am not a soft woman.
You’ll seek the mother in me
but expect to see splinters,
Together we have never been so alone,
like ladders, like messengers with another
answer. The ink-stained hand holds
heartache no longer. It’s been set
and pressed down, mapped & scattered.