At Odds of the Night My Sister Irene and I

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At odds of the night my sister Irene and I
Would count our coins that we might run away,
Stepping off the fated path of pain
That led me to the man whom I would love.

So little do we know of these, our lives,
That lead through dark and bitter labyrinths,
Sometimes to wind through sorrows unrelieved,
Sometimes to turn and climb through sunlit fields.

My mother was shot when I was three years old.
They brought us up to Anchorage to see her.
I don't remember hearing she was dying.
I cried for juice and then was led away.

They took us down to live in Lower Kalskag
With those who didn't care how we might wander
Through the chaos of their junk-strewn days,
Two melodies oft sung but rarely heard.

Often then we thought to run away
To live under the frozen moon and stars
Like faeries in a world of glittering ice,
Tinkling with each breath of polar wind;

Or walking with the freedom of the dead
By daylight in the shadows of the living,
Playing tricks on those whose anger lashed us
With all the passing fury of a storm.

Ah, bitter cold those days in Lower Kalskag!
Love was like an eagle high above us,
Soaring high above our frozen valley
Strewn with pleasure's gnawed and splintered bones.

And life for me exactly was my heart:
A stone grooved deeply by slow-moving ice,
Borne upon an unrelenting glacier
Sliding like a snake towards some vast hell.

Long were I then lost to angry lust
Like those around me, save for two bright angels,
Strangers moved to pity by my suffering,
Who sent me to the Wrangell Institute.

There was a serenity of order
Strict with the insistence of wise love,
And I could be a child once again,
Safe to dream within my castle walls.

And there I met my life's sweet love and light,
The boy who would become my man, my husband,
Whom I'd not have found another way.
And even as two children we knew love.

After Wrangell Institute I headed
Back to Lower Kalskag, for I knew
No other place to wait upon adulthood
When I and my sweet boy could make a home.

I never knew I had an older brother,
Now grown, who met me at the Wrangell airport,
Tore up my ticket, vowed that I would never
Go back to live in such a hell again;

And sent me to my sister in Bethel,
A sister also whom I never knew,
And there I stayed until I finished high school
And joined again the partner of my life.

We walked through rich and lovely fields together,
Filled with children, some who didn't live,
Nor would I choose now to have suffered less
Upon a different path from birth to death.

We cannot know where fate by chance may take us
Or where the road through suffering may lead,
Or whether when we're most submerged in darkness,
Our steps are headed straight into the light.

Copyright by Nicholas Gordon. Free for personal or non-commercial use.

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