The tall grass in the meadow
that the brown bears pass through
on their way to the Chulitna
to fish for spawning salmon
has gone to seed. I walk upstream
fishing for char with mottled sides.
I have cheese and bread to eat
for lunch when I reach the beaver pond.
Bending down to examine a bird's nest,
lined with down and green feathers,
I notice a shadow, a gray wolf moving
like smoke in a clearing
before it disappears in the brush,
and I am honeycombed with awe
as Adam must have been standing
in the Garden, naming, naming, naming.
No path led from the abandoned hand-hewn cabin
to the glacial river or to a garden plot.
Inside I found slivers of bone, rusted snares,
an ermine's skull, a rotting blanket.
A sealed Mason jar filled with glacial
water sat upon the windowsill. An inch
of silt had settled to the bottom of the jar,
leaving a bud of water as clear as any spring's.
Had someone used it to measure the fading
winter day or the darkness of the night?
It's a midsummer's evening. Green light
filters through the chinkless logs.
Closing the sagging door to leave, I feel
that one could not ask for more as epitaph.
A few yards from the road, almost closed
by drifting snow, two hunters butcher
a caribou. It is almost dark.
How heavy the air above them seems
as they bend to their work
in the flickering light of their snowmobile.
I think of a snapshot of a friend's wife
taken last fall in a field not far from here.
She is lifting the still velvet rack of her caribou
from the tundra where it fell.
Soon there is only a thin ash of light above
the mountains as we drive from dark to dark.
Watching a beluga breech the inlet's
silty tide brings back that spring
morning when I first saw one rise
near the mouth of Portage Creek.
For years I tried to hold it in a net
of words: sea-ermine,
embryo of light. Now I know
that these white whales come to feed
on spawning smelt. Indifferent to imagination's
longing, they sound the glacial dark.