A Glimpse of Alaska
1. An idea of Alaska
I’m told you shouldn’t see McKinley
from here, despite its size. It’s an optical
trick, a lens effect and clear skies
out to the right. This land-grab is full of space,
and snow this late fills between trees
like sand drifts—here, ambition
is braced by mountains.
Roads are scarce, and that we can celebrate.
They haven’t branched and spread
as roads will do, and the highway
is a single artery-vein through which blood
flows and backwashes with the same beat.
Small planes fly low to Inuit settlements
dealing with their own stories.
All eyes look North, the Arctic Circle
a centrifuge. A truckie I know says the highway
will eat a set of tyres, and that Barrow’s
toughest oil men are eaten alive
by its endless night. American, but separate,
they come from everywhere,
and talk about Ohio like it’s home.
Yes, I can see McKinley,
its hypnotic off-centring. In the summer
mosquitoes swarm about the cabins
just out of town, and I think
of the old tales I won’t be told.
The oil pipeline not as large
as one might think.
Soon, random claims
for settling will reach into the heart
of the Yukon, where a hunter and his mate
saw a sasquatch, hirsute and hunched,
consider them before running—an Alaskan
with its own names for place, its own claims
of “unexplored territory.”
remains where McKinley
clouds so far away, low grounds
and supermarket social issues,
construction men coming in, birch trees
blown silver globe
of flash night lighting up
as wildlife comes into town,
extra-wide traffic crossings
and that glow of heating
3. The Dredge
Spat out polished stones:
hardly lashed to the banks,
just bogged down;
still ice-bound the river ran its course
through the belly of the dredge: all-in extractor
of the river’s golden teeth, this iron behemoth
so over the top, evolutionary end
of the industrial urge;
no description can render its majestic
metal tackiness, its gigantism
into more than the mounds of stones
we perch on, sinews of cable
and awkward beak and orifices
supreme in their effectiveness:
a river turned inside out.
Having said this, suspect
its ghost is small;
it rings hollow
when a stone
is thrown, and Dutch courage
turns to an assault against all things metal;
the tenacity of seedlings
and nourishment of moose droppings
will outplay four-wheelers
ripping along the paths,
drinking hard down by the road,
and stone-fall is the will
of the river calling back
its own—the sun out,
the wind brisk, just cold.
Driving back down
the road partially closed off,
waving us on: a bike scrunched
against the guide rail,
a body stretched out;
I am told he lived,
and will return to full health,
the mountain air holding
Hydraulic strip mining. Birch trees.
Frost’s Christmas Trees sells
trees and wreaths. Spruce trees,
coal mines, snow ploughs.
The secret sciences of boiling water.
Sophie Station a suite hotel,
named after the owner’s mother-in-law
you learn nothing if you don’t ask.
Fred Meyer’s is still busy
just before closing. Up to the university
museum, worth quoting:
the largest gold exhibit . . .
steppe bison mummy,
Native Alaskan art,
bears and wolves,
a northern lights display
and the Trans-Alaska pipeline story . . .
totem poles, sculptures
and a Russian blockhouse . . .”
6. Anchorage Airport
Mountains brace the runway
like Kathmandu. The great
white hunter lives here:
world record Kodiak Brown Bear—
taxidermy by . . ., bold
as its skull width.
The last year polar bears
were taken, the good Dr
bagged this whopper, world
record, skull width, taxidermist . . .
up on hind legs, poised
to come down through the plastic,
to come down on the hunter’s
wife, children, patients—out there,
where records were made,
so human those bears,
so sentinel, so poised
waiting for their flights,
the mountains at their backs.