A Walrus Tusk from Alaska

By Alfred Corn b. 1943 Alfred Corn
Arp might have done a version in white marble,
the model held aloft, in approximate awe:
this tough cross-section oval of tusk,
dense and cool as fossil cranium—

preliminary bloodshed condonable
if Inupiat hunters on King Island may
follow as their fathers did the bark of a husky,
echoes ricocheted from roughed-up eskers

on the glacier, a resonance salt-cured
and stained deep green by Arctic seas, whose tilting floor
mirrors the mainland’s snowcapped amphitheater.
Which of his elders set Mike Saclamana the task

and taught him to decide, in scrimshaw, what was so?
Netted incisions black as an etching
saw a way to scratch in living infinitives
known since the Miocene to have animated

the Bering Strait: one humpback whale, plump,
and bardic; an orca caught on the ascending arc,
salt droplets flung from a flange of soot-black fin ...
Farther along the bone conveyor belt a small

ringed seal will never not be swimming, part-time
landlubber, who may feel overshadowed by the donor
walrus ahead. And by his scribal tusk, which stands
in direct correspondence to the draftsman’s burin,

skillful enough to score their tapeloop ostinato,
no harp sonata, but, instead, the humpback whale’s
yearning bassoon (still audible if you cup
the keepsake to your ear and let it sound the depths).

Alfred Corn, “A Walrus Tusk from Alaska” from Contradictions. Copyright © 2002 by Alfred Corn. Reprinted with the permission of Copper Canyon Press, P. O. Box 271, Port Townsend, WA 98368-0271, www.coppercanyonpress.org.

Source: Contradictions: Poems (2002)

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Poet Alfred Corn b. 1943

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

 Alfred  Corn

Biography

Born in rural Bainbridge, Georgia, Alfred Corn studied French literature at both Emory University, where he earned a BA, and Columbia University, where he earned an MA. He traveled to France on a Fulbright Scholarship and has taught widely across the United States and in Britain. Corn is the author of more than a dozen collections of poetry, including Tables (2013), Contradictions (2002), and Stake: Selected Poems, 1972–1992 . . .

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POET’S REGION U.S., New England

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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