Snow. Half-light. Memory cast out
to that cabin back in Lapland where we spent
those final days with her, before she’d be put away.
Long, mid-winter night. Dead silence since she’d fallen
sound asleep, after songs and fits of incoherencies
that you were kind in your refusing to repeat to me,
refraining a translation into my own language.
Not this time, you whispered, even when I asked to know
(as if to understand) all those unfamiliar sounds she’d made.
The way you’d always otherwise reverse the words to help me
feel my way around that foreign land— that simple comfort
learning terms and small expressions of one’s world.
Huopa, you taught me, the special felt she fused by hand
for blankets years ago when you were young,
but even you in mother tongue have trouble now
interpreting the way she slips into those old articulations
of the phrase, fissured memory made manifest in dialect that has not
endured into the place where once she taught you how to speak.
Yet there we were, or rather, here we are.
And you, the wiser, recognize these instances
when silence seems the only way to keep—
But I, needing to conceive another way,
gather some supplies and walk outside
into the barren white, through small thickets
of loaded pines, the sun so low it slants
these meager hours that it tries to rise
this time of year. And as I walk along,
my booted feet (half-frozen by the restless
drifts that fill the footprints of my path)
warm up as I approach the clearing that
I know is near a stream where I’ll set down.
I flick the lighter— flits a spark, a flame,
a fire fed with paper scraps and tinder
that I’ve saved, and brace a snow-filled pail
above the blaze, hear the clicking crystal
ice flakes as they melt into their place,
take fluid form and then wisp up in slips
of steam. And I unwind the spin cast reel,
hook the line, loop and knot a luring jig,
then screw the blue old-fashioned drill into
the frozen-over stream that runs below—
Cast into the hole and wait for the pull.