Issue 7: Burgess Needle

Ötzi: High Altitude Hunter

[Ötzi, a 5300 year old Chalcolithic (Copper Age) European mummy,was found by two German tourists on the slopes of the Italian alps onSeptember 19, 1991; the body was at first thought to be a modern corpse.]

Ötzi’s been dead 5,300 years, but thawed only twenty.

Found on an Alpine slope, he lived

before countries, but after copper.

Did Merak and Dubhe still point to Polaris

        when Ötzi stared up seeking North

As they did the evening I shadowed

       crowds across the mall at Lakeside?


Ötzi my kinsman raised his two nephews

Well and strong calming their pulsing blood

And showed them the fire rites as a father

Should so they could climb to ice and prosper.

Legend says he hiked a mile with a spring wind

At his back to reach the first patch of snow

Leading the boys to clever snares set for

Mountain game then sparked moss to fire.

Ötzi, my kinsman, who braced the young

With tales of courage and wit performed

By their father on long ago treks seeking

Ptarmigan and ibex upon far hostile land.

Higher still the three pushed to Alpine air

And burst upon an open vale of flowers

mountain grass and chilled white water

streaming over rocks through a grass carpet…

While the woman at Bank’s, the one

wearing a petite size 4, sipped cool

            chardonnay at an exhibit of furs

With sighs all around  as Ötzi may have sighed

           when he realized that arrow in his shoulder

           meant he’d never see another vale of lowland blooms

                      or the look on his dead brother’s

                      wife when she spotted her nephews’

Silhouettes against the year’s final snow and realized

        their uncle, whose name so often echoed between peaks

Would sound only once again in his honor.

Then I was in Strada staring at Torta di Ricotta,

       sweets beyond Ötzi’s imagination: vanilla & ricotta filled

       pastry tart, toasted almonds & pine nuts with vanilla ice cream

All mixed with a kind of refined sugar he never knew since

His stomach contents revealed a last meal of

deer meat, wheat bran and fruit of the blackthorn tree.

Typically, he was the kind of guy who’d snare a few

         rabbits for a late night snack with root

         vegetables and dried fruit.

Aldo’s offered fine Italian shoes and a deep, soft chair

            that lulled me into a dream of a place

            speckled with edelweiss and a hunched figure

                        that felt my presence and notched

                        an arrow faster than I could turn a key.

He stared at my spectral form

            as I stared back at him through ice and time.

Ötzi’s footware, bearskin sole with deer hide top

            tied with leather, seemed a far cry from

            the gleaming formal footwear on display.

When those German tourists discovered Ötzi’s frozen

         form they took him to be a recently-lost

         climber, but that leather cloak and copper axe

                 made them do a double-take.

 Something about Ötzi’s flint knife and yew bow

        made them stop and think; or, perhaps it was his

        leather loin cloth, bearskin cap and flint-tipped

Arrows that gave them pause.

I cut across a gravel island to Hugo Boss

       just as Ötzi and his nephews

       may have skirted low hills of slate  

                       before suddenly coming upon a small

                       band of strangers field-dressing

An Ibex he’d wounded earlier that day.

Did he extend a similar arrow to show his claim

       to the bloody form only to be rebuffed

       by those jumpy nomads who grabbed

Weapons as his nephews urged him away

      from battle they knew he’d engage

which is when Ötzi’s ankle was first nicked

By an arrow as he skidded on gravel…

As that shopping cart grazed my right knee,

      and I fell cursing, to the dismay of  local matrons;

      but, was nothing to the second arrow

                that pierced his goatskin shirt

                and severed an artery.

Ötzi being the man he was,

         pushed ahead  and urged his nephews ever higher,

           shielding them with his back and, falling, shoved

                  his young charges ahead, speaking in some

                  lost tongue, telling them to escape, to live

While his own fallen body might slow the attackers who were

         eager to examine him for valuables, long enough

         to guarantee the freedom of two young men, giving

Them a chance to find wives and produce

            a lineage that became lithe Milanese

            models and Fiat engineers.

Somewhere lost beneath ice-age debris

            buried in a still secret ravine may lie

            a beaten copper plate forged by Ötzi’s clan;

An etched figure traced above the tree line

            of a high-altitude hunter whose body remained

            untouched by his killers who saw

Power and magic hovering over the old man

            who died clutching a pure copper axe.

With practiced ease I pressed a button

            that opened a door allowing

my well-fed, delicate form

To enter a two-thousand pound,

            steel-encased behemoth and drive

            off wondering if my death will cause

My kinsmen to wail my name in grief

            making the aspen quake.

Ötzi, my kinsmen, this song

            is for us both:

Breathe new air around your life;

Hang my name on yours.

Burgess Needle is a Tucson writer whose work has most recently appeared in Under the Radar (UK), Decanto (UK), Brittle Star (UK), Blackbox Manifold (UK), Kritya (India) and Concho River Review. Diminuendo Press published a collection of his poetry: Every Crow in the Blue Sky in 2009.