I lied when I said I was happy to stay home,
flip through Cruise America, happy to imagine
arms extending out the wrap-around
honeymoon deck, glimpse black fins doing mid-air twirls.
The hungry season, the season without solid ice covering the water,
is getting longer…
I half- lied when I said I wanted to go to Alaska
when you told me you worked for Alaska Cruise Magazine.
We might chance it; leave NJ for the Inside Passage—
You seldom eat when working, but I scramble
eggs, peppers, and cheese,
pour Budweiser down a dry winter throat.
A polar bear in northern Hudson Bay can eat hundreds of seabird eggs in a day.
I skim over your manuscript, check words
repeated: like ambient, like atmosphere, like Arctic,
like hovercraft, (that I am), floating .over you, like seagull.
I lie when I say I like cooking for you. Your shadowy breath body
hardly will budge—just eat without me.
The bears get their mouths around the ice-tree, the hard bark,
and crack the shells of the thick- billed murres (300 at a time).
Some of the bears are sniffing and crunching bones,
--old whale bones— which have little caloric content.
“I can write it from here. Being out there is incidental.
I don’t dine in the Moose Lodge in Fairbanks;
I can ask a hundred people.”
Incidentally, how incidental is it?
I lie when I tell him how his writing makes me feel.
I take the magazine that’s open and folded back.
I point to the picture of a polar bear climbing a barb-wired fence
to get to a tree with food, with bird nests.
Warm water entered the western fjords in 2005-06 and since then has not shifted.
What happens to a species when its ideal habitat starts to disappear?
“When the grizzlies come closer to shore they keep the cruisers
toasting the wild outdoors,” he says. I lied when I laughed about that.
A female polar bear reportedly swam for nine days - nonstop-across the Beaufort Sea before reaching an ice floe, costing her 22 percent of her weight and her cub.
What’s this costing me?
The ice days are only 60 and thaw comes 30 days earlier.
The bear’s too weak to climb that tree,
his eyes focused on the those nests, hungry.
He drops down, head, then front paws,
holding the trunk like he would his lover,
"That turned out rather well,"
said King Xau, triumphant,
happy as I'd ever seen him.
The other counselors
studied the patterned rug
on the floor of his tent.
Even Artoch, who had shouted
at the King two days ago,
had nothing left to say since
the King's rashness had led,
"Good outcomes are not proof
of good decisions," I said.
"So you think our decision was poor?
"What should we have done then?"
King Xau directed the full beaming force
of his pleasure upon me --
the lowest of his counselors,
there only as a courtesy
for having drummed
the barest hint of algebra
into his royal head
when he was the least and youngest
of four princes.
"Should we have killed him as Artoch wished?
"Yes," I said. "Or ridiculed him --
cut off his braid, or spanked his bottom,
or merely laughed at him."
"So we could make an enemy rather than a friend?"
He looked decidedly less pleased.
"So we could take his horses by force,
rather than having them come to us?"
"So you could live."
All trace of pleasure left him.
I imagined what he would have said
had the two of us been alone --
that it wasn't a life he wanted,
neither prudence nor diplomacy nor war.
He wore power well, but he wasn't one
who craved it, not like his eldest brother.
In another world, he might have been
a farrier or a groom.
In this world, he stalked out of the tent.
"That turned out rather poorly," I offered.
"Perhaps," said Artoch. "But what you said
needed to be said."
"Perhaps," I said. "But he's unlikely
to thank me for it."
"Where do you think he went?" said Artoch.
"To his horses."
When the King returned, a long while later,
I saw by the quietness in his face
that I had guessed correctly.
"There are lessons we do not like to learn."
He nodded first to me, then to Artoch.
"We will ... strive to be more cautious,
but we will not hide.
We will not watch from the hilltop
while our soldiers fight our battles below us."
He sat down cross-legged on the rug.
"Sit with us. Eat with us. But no more advice.
It is hard not to admire him,
but I do my best not to show it.
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