Verse > Anthologies > Harriet Monroe, ed. > Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, 1912–22
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Harriet Monroe, ed. (1860–1936).  Poetry: A Magazine of Verse.  1912–22.
 
II: Whistling Wings
By Lew Sarett
 
From “The Box of God”

SHING-ÓB, companion of my old wild years
In the land of K'tchée-gah-mée, my good right arm
When we battled bloody-fisted in the storms
And snows with rotting scurvy, with hunger raw
And ravenous as the lusting tongues of wolves—        5
My Joe, no longer will the ghostly mountains
Echo your red-lunged laughters in the night;
The gone lone days when we communed with God
In the language of the waterfall and wind
Have vanished with your basswood water-drum.        10
 
Do you recall our cruise to Flute-reed Falls?
Our first together—oh, many moons ago—
Before the curés built the village mission?
How, banked against our camp-fire in the bush
Of sugar-maples, we smoked kin-ník-kin-ník,        15
And startled the sombre buttes with round raw songs,
With wails that mocked the lynx who cried all night
As if her splitting limbs were torn with pain
Of a terrible new litter? How we talked
Till dawn of the Indian’s Kéetch-ie Má-ni-dó,        20
The Mighty Spirit, and of the white man’s God?
Don’t you remember dusk at Cold-spring Hollow?—
The beaver-pond at our feet, its ebony pool
Wrinkled with silver, placid, calm as death,
Save for the fitful chug of the frog that flopped        25
His yellow jowls upon the lily-pad,
And the quick wet slap of the tails of beaver hurrying
Homeward across the furrowing waters, laden
With cuttings of tender poplar … down in the swale
The hermit-thrush who spilled his rivulet        30
Of golden tones into the purple seas
Of gloam among the swamps … and in the East,
Serene against the sky—do you remember?—
Slumbering Mont du Père, shouldering its crags
Through the crumpled clouds, rose-flushed with afterglow …        35
And dew-lidded dusk that slipped among the valleys
Soft as a blue wolf walking in thick wet moss.
How we changed our ribald song for simple talk!…
 
    “My frier’, Ah-déek, you ask-um plenty hard question:
    Ugh! W’ere Kéetch-ie Má-ni-dó he live?        40
    W’ere all dose Eenzhun spirits walk and talk?
    Me—I dunno!… Mebbe … mebbe over here,
    In beaver-pond, in t’rush, in gromping bullfrog;
    Mebbe over dere, he’s sleeping in dose mountain …
 
    “Sh-sh-sh!… Look!… Over dere … look, my frien’!        45
    On Mont du Pére … he’s moving little!… ain’t?…
    Under dose soft blue blanket she’s falling down
    On hill and valley! Somebody—somebody’s dere!…
    In dose hill of Mont du Pére, sleeping … sleeping …”
 
And when the fingers of the sun, lingering,        50
Slipped gently from the marble brow of the glacier
Pillowed among the clouds, blue-veined and cool,
How, one by one, like lamps that flicker up
In a snow-bound hamlet in the valley, the stars
Lighted their candles mirrored in the waters …        55
And floating from the hills of Sleepy-eye,
Soft as the wings of dusty-millers flying,
The fitful syllables of the Baptism River
Mumbling among its caverns hollowly,
Shouldering its emerald sweep through cragged cascades        60
In a flood of wafted foam, fragile, flimsy
As luna-moths fluttering on a pool …
 
    “Caribou, you hear dat?… somebody’s dere!…
    Ain’t?… in dose hills of Mont du Pére … sleeping.
    Sh-sh-sh!… You hear-um?… dose far ’way Flute-reed Fall? …        65
    Somebody’s dere in Mont du Pére, sleeping …
    Somebody he’s in dere de whole night long …
    And w’ile he’s sleep, he’s talking little … talking….”
 
Hush!—don’t you hear K’tchée-gah-mée at midnight?—
That stretched far out from the banks of Otter-slide        70
To the dim wet rim of the world—North, East, West?—
The Big-water, calm, thick-flecked with the light of stars
As the wind-riffled fur of silver fox in winter …
The shuffle of the sands in the lapsing tide …
The slow soft wash of waters on the pebbles …        75
 
    “Sh-sh-sh!… Look, Ah-déek!… on K'tchée-gah-mée!…
    Somebody—somet’ing he’s in dere … ain’t?…
    He’s sleep w’ere black Big-water she’s deep … Ho!…
    In morning he’s jump up from hees bed and race
    Wit’ de wind; but tonight he’s sleeping … rolling little …        80
    Dreaming about hees woman … rolling … sleeping….”
 
And later—you recall?—beyond the peaks
That tusked the sky like fangs of a coyote snarling,
The full-blown mellow moon that floated up
Like a liquid-silver bubble from the waters,        85
Serenely, till she pricked her delicate film
On the slender splinter of a cloud, melted,
And trickled from the silver-dripping edges.
Oh, the splendor of that night!… The Twin-fox stars
That loped across the pine-ridge … Red Ah-núng,        90
Blazing from out the cavern of the gloom
Like the smoldering coal in the eye of carcajou …
The star-dust in the valley of the sky,
Flittering like glow-worms in a reedy meadow!
 
    “Somebody’s dere … He’s walk-um in dose cloud …        95
    Look!… You see-um?… He’s mak’-um for hees woman
    De w’ile she sleep, dose t’ing she want-um most
    Blue dress for dancing!… You see, my frien’?… ain’t?…
    He’s t’rowing on de blanket of dose sky
    Dose plenty-plenty handfuls of w’ite stars;        100
    He’s sewing on dose plenty teet’ of elk,
    Dose shiny looking-glass and plenty beads.
    Somebody’s dere … somet’ing he’s in dere….”
 
The green moons went—and many many winters.
Yet we held together, Joe, until our day        105
Of falling leaves, like two split sticks of willow
Lashed tight with buckskin buried in the bark.
Do you recollect our last long cruise together,
To Hollow-bear, on our line of marten traps?—
When cold Pee-bóan, the Winter-maker, hurdling        110
The rim-rock ridge, shook out his snowy hair
Before him on the wind and heaped up the hollows?—
Flanked by the drifts, our lean-to of toboggans,
Our bed of pungent balsam, soft as down
From the bosom of a whistling swan in autumn …        115
Our steaming sledge-dogs buried in the snow-bank,
Nuzzling their snouts beneath their tented tails,
And dreaming of the paradise of dogs …
Our fire of pine-boughs licking up the snow,
And tilting at the shadows in the coulee …        120
And you, rolled warm among the beaver-pelts,
Forgetful of your sickness-on-the-lung,
Of the fever-pains and coughs that wracked your bones—
You, beating a war song on your drum,
And laughing as the scarlet-moccasined flames        125
Danced on the coals and bellowed up the sky.
 
Don’t you remember?… the snowflakes drifting down
Thick as the falling petals of wild plums …
The clinker-ice and the scudding fluff of the whirlpool
Muffling the summer-mumblings of the brook …        130
The turbulent waterfall protesting against
Such early winter-sleep, like a little boy
Who struggles with the calamity of slumber,
Knuckling his leaden lids and his tingling nose
With a pudgy fist, and fretfully flinging back        135
His snowy cover with his petulant fingers.
Out on the windy barrens restless bands
Of caribou, rumped up against the gale,
Suddenly breaking before the rabid blast,
Scampering off like tumbleweeds in a cyclone …        140
The low of bulls from the hills where worried moose,
Nibbling the willows, the wintergreens, the birches,
Were yarding up in the sheltering alder-thicket …
From the cedar wind-break, the bleat of calves wedged warm
Against the bellies of their drowsy cows …        145
And then the utter calm … the wide white drift
That lay upon the world as still and ghastly
As the winding-sheet of death … the sudden snap
Of a dry twig … the groan of sheeted rivers
Beating with naked hands upon the ice …        150
The brooding night … the crackle of cold skies …
 
    “Sh-sh-sh-sh!… Look, my frien’,… somebody’s dere!…
    Ain’t?… over dere?… He’s come from dose Land-of-Winter!…
    Wit’ quilt he’s cover-um up dose baby mink,
    Dose cub, dose wild arbutus, dose jump-up-Johnny …        155
    He’s keep hees chil’ens warm for long, long winter …
    Sh-sh-sh-sh!… Somebody’s dere on de w’ite savanne!…
    Somebody’s dere!… He’s walk-um in de timber …
    He’s cover-um up hees chil’ens, soft … soft …”
 
And later, when your bird-claw fingers rippled        160
Over the holes of your cedar Bée-bee-gwún
Mellowly in a tender tune, how the stars,
Like little children trooping from their teepees,
Danced with their nimble feet across the sky
To the running-water music of your flute …        165
And how, with twinkling heels they scurried off
Before the Northern Light swaying, twisting,
Spiralling like a slender silver smoke
On the thin blue winds, and feeling out among
The frightened starry children of the sky …        170
 
    “Look!… in de Land-of-Winter … somet’ing’s dere!…
    Somebody—he’s reaching out hees hand!… for me!…
    Ain’t?… For me he’s waiting … Somebody’s dere!…
    Somebody he’s in dere, waiting … waiting …”
 
Don’t you remember?—the ghostly silence, splintered        175
At last by a fist that cracked the hoary birch,
By a swift black fist that shattered the brittle air,
Splitting it into a million frosty fragments …
And dreary Northwind, coughing in the snow,
Spitting among the glistening sheeted pines,        180
And moaning on the barrens among the bones
Of gaunt white tamaracks mournful and forlorn …
 
    “Sh-sh-sh-sh!… My Caribou!… Somebody’s dere!…
    He’s crying … little bit crazy in dose wind …
    Ain’t?… You hear-um?… far ’way … crying        185
    Lak my old woman w’en she’s lose de baby
    And no can find-um—w’en she’s running everyw’ere,
    Falling in snow, talking little bit crazy,
    Calling and crying for shees little boy …
    Sh-sh-sh-sh!… Somet’ing’s dere … you hear-um?… ain’t?…        190
    Somebody—somebody’s dere, crying … crying …”
 
Then from the swale, where shadows pranced grotesquely
Solemn, like phantom puppets on a string,
A cry—pointed, brittle, perpendicular—
As startling as a thin stiff blade of ice        195
Laid swift and sharp on fever-burning flesh:
The tremulous wail of a lonely shivering wolf,
Piercing the world’s great heart like an icy sword …
 
    “Look!… Quick!… Ah-déek!… Somebody’s dere!…
    Ain’t?… He’s come—he’s come for me—for me!        200
    Me—me, I go!……. My Caribou …
    Dose fire—dose fire she’s going out—she’s cold …
    T’row—t’row on dose knots of pine … Mee-gwétch!…
    And pull ’way from dose flame—dose pan of sour-dough,
    If you want eat—in de morning—damn-good flapjack …        205
 
    “Sh-sh-sh-sh!… Somet’ing’s dere!… You hear-um?… ain’t?…
    Somebody—somebody’s dere, calling … calling …
    I go … I go—me!… me … I go….”
 
 
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