SALLUIT by Sarah Marshall

Salluit

SALLUIT
by Sarah Marshall

The snow tongue has no country, and no voice.
It only knows the tread of boots and barefeet
and the dirt-tough paws of animals
and the urging on of wind.

She sleeps, and in the night wakes
…………..to dreams of nails tearing at her throat—
…………..wolves’, their slashings as keen
…………..as their lightless voices—
and finds she has torn her nightgown apart

as those stolen too soon from the lightful world
once did
(or so she has been reading tonight
her books’ gentle faces still open
beneath her hands).

This riding is full
of that kind of story—
…………..the men who scraped lichen from the sides of rocks
…………..admiring the miserly veins of their colorless reaching, the efficiency
…………..or their bare and unbroken life

…………..and the men who looked out at the slope and glisten of an ice heave
…………..and could see only the curve of a woman’s neck

…………..and the men who found themselves eyeing she-bears—the stock
…………..in their hands already fingered
…………..tallow-smooth
…………..as they searched for the glistening
…………..bunch-petals, pinkening
…………..under tobacco-yellow fur.

…………..I have seen a bear well-skinned—
wrote one, an Englishman
who elsewhere spoke longingly of the warm, wreathy heft
of his cows’ breath
and wondered at the survival
of a valuable, brindle-headed
bull—
…………..and I know how strongly it resembles a man.

…………..The same must be true for its mate.

And, too, there are stories in these books
of men brokenstrided and stumblesome
as the trunks of drunken black firs

of men whose bones rose to meet the air
and could not be persuaded to return to their humbler workings

and of the men who were put away
wrapped bunting-tight, and rested
in the backs of caves

fingers cleft so a book
of sweet-papered
psalms
could be forced between them—

or, failing that, any words that could be found:
a page from Wacousta or Marmion
or the words of a man who could best pass as Godly
a man whose voice had been best smoothed by money, say
or at least a man whose cheek was still free
from the satiny scarring of a she-bear’s
best protestations.

…………..He was from Michigan, they say.
…………..He talked about that once.

And they will summon a state’s worth of eulogy from
the stray sentences they still remember: a mother’s plates, a school
fight song
a cherry, a won smoker, a pretty girl’s
ugly name.

And wind and snow will do the finest undertaker’s work
and the man will wake as air—tamed
as only immurement can tame it—

slinks around his neck and between his bent fingers
and softens the pages of Jeremiah, the first words of Wacousta
…………..we are about to introduce our readers to scenes with which the European
…………..is little familiarised—

and breathes its way into each fibrous pore
and warms to life his knotted dreams of
cherries, smokers, pretty girls
and names.

He knows his name again, but little else.
He knows a man’s strength can make metal bend and saws jig and jigs fast enough
for drunkenness.

He knows how to win a smoker.
He tries doing the same to the ice.

And perhaps, when he finds that ice did not fear him—that it does not understand
the pressures of his hands, or hear the language
of his desperation—he begins to tear at what might yield

clawing his once-plundered clothing apart
proving himself master of leather and eider
and, when left with nothing more to sunder
proving that his flesh cannot yet master itself.

Or, as a machinist from Mississauga wrote,
…………..We do not know why they rend themselves this way
…………..but privately I wonder if they seek to catch
…………..the heat that rises from within them
…………..the proof of a foundry motion, still at work.

She holds her throat fast, and fears herself voiceless
until she feels the thunder of calving
the vibration of the frost heave rising beneath her
and begins to sense the rhythms of this life.


Sarah-MarshallSarah Marshall grew up in Oregon and taught writing for several years at Portland State University, where she developed many courses around her obsessions, including a class called “The Idea of North.” She writes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction on topics including insects, invasive species, pet stores, vigilantism, vampires, crime, and Florida. Most recently, her work has appeared in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2015. She is currently pursuing a PhD in English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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