inukshuk

Feb 1, 2019

Today’s poem is “inukshuk” by Jeri Theriault. She’s the author of three chapbooks and a full length collection, Radost, my red. Her teaching career included six years as the English department chair at the International School of Prague. She also taught at Deering and South Portland High Schools and at Waynflete School. 

She writes, “I wrote 'inukshuk' in response to Celeste Roberge’s installation in Portland Museum of Art’s Sculpture Garden. Rising Cairn is a life-size, human-shaped metal cage filled with smooth granite stones. A kneeling figure.

“Some of my first thoughts about the piece were: Virginia Woolf putting stones into her pockets and walking into the River Ouse; Sisyphus pushing his boulder uphill for eternity; and the memory of a 'well-muscled' man creating complicated cairns on the little beach at the east end of the back bay path I used to walk in Portland.

“Inukshuk, an inuit word, means 'to act in the capacity of a human.' Roberge captures both the everyday heroism and the purely human act of 'rising,' not sinking, though the earth pulls at each of us with the weight of stone and the inevitability of death.”

inukshuk 
by Jeri Theriault

the stones piled variously on the thin beach
near my favorite walking path fall
when the tide turns & collect 

in the crook of that place   prepared
for stillness. the water beats them smooth
& makes a kind of music    grief’s 

innumerable chuffs & sighs. the woman kneeling
does not put the stones into her pockets
but swallows them   each stone 

remembered by the tongue.  tastes clay & silt
cliff edge & crag    until her body holds
the balance between weight 

& right   like the low-tide man   hefting
stone in his well-muscled arms   smile-less   stone-
worthy.  another swallower     he cairns 

& stoops. he does not look at me even when I speak.     
I  too  remember  each fist-sized bruise   each
rain-wise stone   tuned to the illumined 

lullaby of loss. we swallow what gathers   
clamoring.   we sink a bit more each day   stone-
anchored.  she says she’s rising. not 

sinking. in another telling   she carries stones   
one by one uphill.     some say
the carrying goes on forever. 

Poem copyright © 2018 Jeri Theriault.