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Donald Hall Poems
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Wolf Knife by Donald Hall
In the mid August, in the second year
of my First Polar Expedition, the snow and ice of winter
almost upon us, Kantiuk and I
attempted to dash the sledge
along Crispin Bay, searching again for relics
of the Frankline Expedition. Now a storm blew,
and we turned back, and we struggled slowly
in snow, lest we depart land and venture onto ice
from which a sudden fog and thaw
would abandon us to the Providence
of the sea.

Near nightfall I thought I heard snarling behind us.
Kantiuk told me that two wolves, lean as the bones of a wrecked ship,
had followed us the last hour, and snapped their teeth
as if already feasting.
I carried the one cartridge only
in my riffle, since, approaching the second winter,
we rationed stores.

As it turned dark,
we could push no further, and made
camp in a corner of ice hummocks,
and the wolves stopped also, growling
just past the limits of vision,
coming closer, until I could hear
the click of their feet on ice. Kantiuk laughed
and remarked that the wolves appeared to be most hungry.
I raised my rifle, prepared to shoot the first that
ventured close, hoping
to frighten the other.

Kantiuk struck my rifle down and said again
that the wolves were hungry, and laughed.
I feared that my old companion
was mad, here in the storm, among ice-hummocks,
stalked by wolves. Now Kantiuk searched
in his pack, and extracted
two knives--turnoks, the Innuits called them--
which by great labor were sharpened, on both sides,
to the sharpness like the edge of a barber's razor,
and approached our dogs
and plunged both knives
into the body of our youngest dog
who had limped all day.

I remember that I consider turning my rifle on Kantiuk
as he approached, then passed me,
carrying knives red with the gore of our dog--
who had yowled, moaned, and now lay
expired, surrounded
by curious cousins and uncles, possibly
hungry--and he trusted the knives
handle-down in the snow.

Immediately after he left the knives, the vague, gray
shape of wolves
turned solid, out of the darkness and the snow, and set ravenously
to licking blood from the honed steel.
the double-edge of the knives
so lacerated the tongues of the starved beasts
that their own blood poured
copiously forth
to replenish the dog's blood, and they ate
more furiously than before, while Knatiuk laughed,
and held his sides

And I laughed also, perhaps in relief that Providence had delivered us
yet again, or perhaps--under conditions of extremity--
far from Connecticut--finding there creatures
acutely ridiculous, so avid
to swallow their own blood. First one, and then the other collapsed, dying,
bloodless in the snow black with their own blood,
and Kantiuk retrieved
his turnoks, and hacked lean meat
from the thigh of the larger wolf, which we ate
grateful, blessing the Creator, for we were hungry.
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