Issue 29: Kerrin P. Sharpe

from Letters to Johanna

circles of light nibbled your wedding ring

your fingers clenched just and unclenched push

the midwife fluttered between the kitchen table

and quivering kettle hunters in Niaqornat lay

on the tuvaq listening for a whale the sea

drowned their harpoons the midwife’s hook

broke the waters the ice squirmed and split

the baby launched her membrane umiak

the howl of sledge dogs the strain on their chains

the whoosh of Dorthe the hunters’ hurrah

your blessing Johanna a blessing for Dorthe

a song for the whale


once I dreamt oil from the Exxon Valdez

crept all the way from Alaska into Niaqornat

we ran down to the stony beach tripping over

towels and blankets sea birds sea otters seals

cormorants in their thick slick shrouds eyes open

eyes closed eyes missing Johanna you the first

and longest in the water day after day tender wiping

and wrapping the dead the injured in words

from sad anchor songs


I’ve never forgotten Olayuk climbing the rise home

calling snow geese with his nose flute telling us

he’d married in a chapel powered by ice telling us

he’d woken the next morning singing to himself

Olayuk pushing back his caribou hood stamping back

towards the sea shouting no one will remember me!


the little snow girl your Alfred built the last time

he ever walked how her arms opened wider every day

how like him she faded in a rind of sea ice sea smoke

prayers of the morning prayers of the evening

his thin bruised hands


cries of pink footed geese made smooth with leaving

still float around Niaqornat cries that suspend you

Johanna between waking and sleeping today your

house perched on tongues of slippery wood seems

jittery maybe it hears the rage of carbon and methane

these days the melt is so much earlier we’ve hardly time

to hunt or store meat like we did it’s been ages since I’ve

heard a whale last month the air warmer than bone

what have we learnt about ice?



[Kerrin P. Sharpe has published four collections of poetry (all with Te Herenga Waka University Press, Wellington, NZ). She has also had poems published in a wide range of journals both in NZ and overseas including Oxford Poets 13 (Carcanet Press), Blackbox Manifold, Poetry (USA), PN Review, and Stand.]


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