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Alaska

The eye of the seal—my amulet—will lead me to the white bear.
Is there anything more beautiful than to pursue the white bear over the white ocean?
I’ve followed his trail now through many dreams; these prints
in the snow, scoured by the wind and leading nowhere.
I’ve looked for so long, my eyes have stopped seeing.
But sometimes, in the immense whiteness, I think I hear
a kind of crying, a yowl unlike any other living creature’s;
and by the time the first whiskers of shadow appear,
when the sun has bled until it disappears,
someone will have seen a silhouette high on the ridge,
transforming night to day, dark to light.
Now the lamp-oil has guttered,
the stars migrate toward the land of caribou,
and the men, excited, set their traps
and wait for the hidden prey to show itself.
What is that splendor on the wind-carved steep?
Three times I’ve rubbed the death eye,
three times I’ve promised its viscera to the men and their dogs,
three times I’ve offered my heart as bait.
And some day, the heavens and earth will tremble,
some day, the mortal lance will pierce his body,
and when it does, we’ll hang his bladder from a pole
to drive off the shadow and the spirit of the shadow.
Later on, we’ll toss the offal downhill to the sea,
and wrapped forever in his immaculate skin,
we’ll continue our march, laughing clamorously,
giving each other great pats on the back.

Translation of “Alaska.” Copyright the estate of Horacio Castillo. Translation copyright 2011 by Samuel Gray. All rights reserved.