A Walrus Tusk from Alaska by Alfred Corn


A Walrus Tusk from Alaska
by Alfred Corn

Arp might have done a version of it in white marble,
the model held aloft, in approximate awe:
this touch 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 Sclamana 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 humpbacked 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 with the draughtsman’s burin,

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

PHOTO: Inupiat hunter in kayak, Noatak, Alaska, by Edward Curtis (1929). Courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress.

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