As Us

A Space for Writers of the World

Carrie Ojanen – Poetry

Fifth Saint, Sixth & Seventh

Gabriel, sing great-grandpa’s song,
head thrown back, black hair gleaming
gray at your temples. So handsome, you,
great-uncle—my Uvah—I imagine my Aupa
looked like you when he was younger,
deep, dark skin and half-moon smile
gleaming, you laugh the same laugh—huh huh huh huh!

Did your heart break, as his, leaving the island—
he stayed an extra winter, left his eldest children
in Nome for school, lived on Ugiuvak—the place for winter—with Auka
and their smallest children—
Mom, age four, was there—and that 16mm
camera recording the last winter
of his traditional life.

Recording that last winter to convince the BIA to send another teacher.

The film was ruined by the August storms.
They wouldn’t have watched it anyway.

Those fuckers.

O God, reading Aupa’s accounts ruptures

everything forever.

Aupa never sings.

But sing, Gabriel, sing, sing grandpa’s song.

Mom and Aya Margaret will stand up to dance.
We welcome everyone to dance with us.

You all broke, I know, everyone shattered

Auka and Aupa and their sad kitchen life,
eyes graying the straight, dusty streets of
Nome.

Everybody lost themselves in drink for years.
Some are still lost.

Sing, Gabriel, sing.

How beautiful our women are—
wearing floral ugithqoks,
dancing—that passionate precision—
your Frances, Auka, Marie, Mom, Margaret, Caroline, Marilyn,
and your granddaughters—in a line—motions memorized.

And then, the song is over.
They move back to their seats.

Please, Uvah, as we always do,
sing the song again, a second time,
and a second time they will stand up to dance.

Carrie Ojanen HeadshotCarrie Ayagaduk Ojanen is an Inupiaq writer from the Ugiuvamiut tribe.  The Ugiuvamiut lived on Ugivak island (King Island, Alaska) during the winter until the 1960s, when the federal government closed the BIA school on the island, forcing the residents to relocate to Nome, Alaska. She grew up in Nome, Alaska.  Her grandparents greatly missed living on Ugivak.  Their longing for their home and her sense of place in Nome, informed by a sense of this displacement, inspires her writing.  She received her MFA from the University of Montana.  Her work has appeared in Prairie Schooner and the Louisville Review.

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