Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tundra Song

The poem started out as an idea and was built from a haiku I wrote several years ago. Then I found myself reading up on Slavic folktales. My grandmother came from Slovakia and was an avid story teller. There is this water nymph or drowned female spirit called the Rusalka. The Rusalka is usually a young woman or girl who has drowned suddenly, her death is untimely. In some stories, it's due to hearbreak or an evil spell. But the female usally drowns in water and comes back as a spirit haunting rivers, lakes or wetlands. She sings to mortal men and other creatures, enticing them with her voice.In some versions, she is a malevolent character and in others, a rather poignant and tortured maiden.

In my version, it's a blend of several elements. Namely, it's a girl who lives in that cold part of the world on the verge of melting. She hears a sound similar to footsteps outside. Thinking it is her lover, a lean trapper, she rushes out and slips throught the thawing ice. While drowning ,she calls out to the moon goddess and asks to switch places. Knowing the moon is a huntress, she feels the sacred entity will have the intellectual skill and endurance to find a way out of the water's frozen underworld. And she ,herself, will become an ethereal being, something that lights the tundra and has influence over the tides, the land and animals. When the shift occurs, she comes in from the sea and seeks kinship with the white bears. They represent pure strength and resillence. Like them, she wants a heart that will prevail all things, sorrow, fate etc. There is also the hint of Spring existing beneath the slow thaw. Again, a force of birth and renewal.

Arctic version of the Rusalka

Candle left burning,
glass of wine half consumed
and this fur shawl draped

over the mantle,
as she runs out hearing
footsteps, but they're not his --

the lean trapper,
who loved and lavished her skin
with sweet oil before rubbing

his pelts of black seal and elk.
It’s just the shoreline
melting degree by degree,

the pine boughs trampled
by wind hauling its breath.
Everything shimmers.

Ice seeps through the girl
chilling her white bones and throat.
Water swallows hard

and she drowns praying
to the celestial huntress,
the air stark as her plea --

Come, take my place
and let me take yours,
let me take yours!


Large bodies of snow
sprawl over the mountain's rock --
Winter craves a black sky;

and the long shadow
of moonlight wanders between
untangling her hair

still wet from the sea
as she moves inland to find
kinship with the bears.

Her voice echoes low
dissolving their spell of sleep
and she sings to them --

Your heart braves all things,
and so will mine
so will mine!


This painting is a scene from the Norweigan classic --"East of The Sun and West of the Moon. The painting is by 19th century French artist/illustrator, Edmund Du Lac.

No comments: