Mar Ka

2019, Chitose, Hokkaido, Japan

                        on the island of Hokkaido
                       in northernmost Japan
                        in a hotel ballroom   I learned
                        a very special dance

                        from an Ainu grandmother
                        who became a friend
                        I learned the Crane Dance   homage
                        to the gods of the marshlands

                        these cranes are the size of me   with wings
                        that stretch to eight-nine feet
                        so   people-sized   elegant   with inspired
                      courting choreography

                        the Tanchou   the Red-Crowned Crane 
                       is rare and endangered    therefore
                        I was lucky to see   from a bus window
                        in the rain   over a northern lake
                        a half-dozen flying
                        quite far away   but the lens on my new
                        iPhone is quite good

                        the Ainu and the cranes lived a hundred
                        thousand years    in this place
                        before the Children of the Sun   invaded

                        Ainu    means human

                        from the 1300s subject to violent rule
                            (colonization    land grabs   involuntary
                           labor    family separation   forcible
                           assimilation    epidemic diseases)

                        Ainu    means human

                        not until this year    did a bill pass
                        recognizing the Ainu as   the land’s
                        original people    recognizing that

                        Ainu     means human

                        that Ainu means those humans
                        who know the moves
                        of the Tanchou



For Aziza

                        I open the Zoom classroom   and there is light
                        eight windows in that room   eight moons
                        shining through   from Russia    and Mongolia
                        from Serbia    from Thailand    the Philippines
                        the Congo   Brazil   Peru    advanced students
                        waxing gibbous moons    their faces opening
                        like blooms   to the buzzing of adopted words

                        today we practice small talk    converse
                        about the weather   about the day’s headlined news
                        about favorite foods   colors   weekend plans
                        attitudes    towards sport teams   music bands
                        about how small-talk digressions build bridges
                        that then can then bear the rock-weight
                        of our universal   and particular   oppressions

                        a child in someone’s background cries   someone
                        else’s internet dies   someone leaves for a second
                        job   someone asks about the next class topic
                        suddenly everyone is tired   and silence rises
                        so I read the poem “Small Talk” by Eleanor Lerman
                        which ends       small talk   before life begins

                        and so   with a group sigh   class                    ends

                        in my now dark room    through a window undrawn
                        I see this eve’s moon              a moth    or bird  
                        aloft    winged      like second-tongue matched words  
                        or     more basically     Wernicke paired to Broca
                        (parts of the brain hinged by a neural pathway)
                        one wing comprehension   the other articulation
                        together    giving winged-flight   to our meanings



Poet, essayist, translator, Mar Ka is the author of BE-HOOVED (University of Alaska Press Literary Series, 2019), which book was a finalist for the Montaigne Prize, awarded for “thought-provoking” work. Her poems have been published nationally and internationally, won a prize or two, and more than once been set to music. Of Lithuanian heritage and come to Alaska from Chicago to support indigenous rights, she writes now from Alaska’s Chugach Mountains. A longtime judge of the UAA/ADN Statewide Creative Writing Contest, she teaches occasional writing workshops at the Eagle River Nature Center and promotes poetry readings at the Anchorage International Gallery of Contemporary Arts. She earned a law degree from the University of Chicago, and an MFA from the Institute for American Indian Arts.