Commonplace
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www.common-place.org · vol. 13 · no. 4.5 · September 2013
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Poetic Research Department


Nicole Stellon O'Donnell
Poems
Statement of Poetic Research


AT ATKA

In February at Atka
I stood on the black sands
below the trading post
and watched my husband
fade up the plank
stairway, a bag
in each hand.

Happy you be here,
Prekaska's Wife.
Glad you was come,
Prekaska's Wife.

The crowd hemmed
me in, smiled,
called me my new name.
Prekaska: shopkeeper.
Wife: me.

At the house
my luggage sat
on the bed,
waiting,
already settled.

THE FOOD, THE AMMUNITION

Late in May,
we sit at tea
at the neighbor's.

My husband haggles,
trying again
to take a pelt
for nothing.

We hear a cry,
Prekaska, Prekaska
come! The store
is on fire!

Running back
toward the crowd,
I think of my scrapbook,
the photos, the platinum
blue pelt that was
my engagement
present.

Inside, acrid
smoke chokes me
as I pack and bundle
at the dresser and then
run, the fur swaddling
paper and frames.

Outside, the Aleuts,
armed with water
and blankets, flail
and shout, help
put it out.

Standing under
our ruined ceiling,
my husband notices
my full arms,
needless jumble.

Angry, he asks
why I left the food,
the ammunition.

ON CLOTHING

Walking
the muddy path
in wool pants,
a sweater,
and rubber boots,
I remember
the clothes I packed
for my first journey.

A chalk-white crepe
dress with a sequined cape.
A blue gown for dining.
A navy suit in which
to lean nonchalantly
against the rail.

When my husband
opened the suitcase
he groaned,
You won't need this
on the Aleutian Maid.

Boxed in the storeroom,
they wait beside a stack
of blankets.

I haven't sent them back.

PAPER PARASOL

When the Japanese
anchor in the harbor,
the Aleuts close
their doors, leave
the boat unmet
at the shore.

Mr. Kojima calls
me Madame,
brings gifts:
a paper parasol,
handkerchiefs,
a silk shawl.

But my husband,
wary and rude,
keeps his eyes
on his pipe
as he packs
and lights it.

Kojima explains:
If only we could
find a new harbor
on these islands.
If you would be willing
to point one out,
the Captain would
be forever indebted
to you.

My husband smiles,
leans over the map.
There is a harbor here.
His finger traces
the edge of an island,

a passage lined with rocks.

SKIN

I sort the blue fox pelts
for my husband.

I've learned to judge
the quality of skin—
long guard hairs,
even markings,
pointed tails
stretching wrist
to elbow.

Once a Captain
gave me the pick of his lot
if I could find the best.

When I held up
a supple, flawless skin
the Captain laughed,
The lady has it.

As he left,
I ran my fingers
against the fur's grain

while my husband beamed
in the lamp's round light,
his hands folded on the books,
figures leaking from
the pen's tip.


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