Alaskaphrenia by Christine Hume
So today, someone at work forwarded me an email from a client of ours in Alaska who had attached some photos we might use. In the first photo, a handsome man in camouflage is holding what I guess is a rainbow trout. This photo seems nice. In the second, third, and fourth photos, a bear is seen climbing into a boat, sitting in the boat, and destroying the boat, respectively. It's some kind of brown bear, possibly the Brown Bear (Ursus arctos), and it doesn't seem happy about this boat.
In the accompanying email, we learn that the man is the husband of the woman who sent the original emal, and that he and his buddies were fishing--went well, caught a lot--and that they saw this boat (not theirs) get destroyed by a bear who ate the seats of the boat before jumping off of it back into the water and swimming away. They left before whoever owned that boat came back to it (maybe it was the bear's cheating husband, who knows), but it's fun to imagine what their reaction might have been.
That this came the day that I was going to write about Alaskaphrenia couldn't be more perfect (and never mind when I said I was going to write about it).Hume's poems here are full of the eccentricities of America's last near-frontier, and as a book, this collection is somehow even more inherently Alaskan than its straightforward title suggests, if that's possible. It's a lush book, and my favorite poems here were ones where nature, like the bear in the boat, seemed to be coming through the door. In "What'd You Come to Alaska for If You Don't Want? Hume writes:
- The dark amplifies my hearing
- You too hear animals at the wrong time of day
- Some Sounds are known to be true
- Moans beg themselves into handfuls of lit trees
- Shed leaves mortify the silence
- Stridulations use strong burrowing instincts to get in
- I mistook myself
- for the beloved
- until I saw a way through the third eye
- iron caribou came
- attracted by flashbacks
- from an ancient blood disease
- I sucked their udders so hard
- as if that would draw a word
And while something about the looming figure of nature makes it a cold, dark book without room for politics or religion or romantic love, it still a heartbreaking book in the way sadness is loudest when alone. My favorite poems of the book feel like shivering in the dark. My number one, “Insert Your Eyes Here. Contemplate the Enchantments of Your View and Pleasurably Serve Your Mind," has this line in the last stanza:
- Your mother's voice would unsnow you if you could hear it.