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By Linda Bierds

A little candlewax on the thumbnail, liquid

at first, slipping, then stalled to an ice-hood.

Another layer, another, and the child lies back,

his thumb a hummock, his small knuckle

buckled with cracks.


No snow yet, but

the last white meadows of switchwort and saxifrage

mimic it. Already the bears brush back

through the dwarf willows—Hubbart Point, Cape Henrietta Maria,

the bay’s deep arc flattening, lessening

as land extends through the fast-ice and the seam

of open leads stretches, withdraws.


They have come for the pack floes, for the slow

rafting. And repeat on their white faces, the boy thinks,

the low strokes of the borealis: violet mouths,

madder blue at the eyelids. Perhaps he will walk

to the shoreline—no shore, of course, just miles

of land-fast ice stretched over water, stretched out

to water, the line where each begins


a filament, a vapor. By then the bears will be

sailors, or, far to the north, stalled in their waxy sleep.

He yawns, looks down at his slipper, his floormat

of braided fleece. By then the lights

will be thicker, greens and magentas flashing, rolling in


at times like fog. To go where nothing lives.

He turns, settles. To extend a little breath

out over that ice—the white, cumbersome bodies

migrating in reverse with the others, dragging

between them a lifeline, plump and intricate,


like a net, like purse seiners dragging a cork net,

its great arc spiraling, tighter, tighter,

now green in those lights, now blue, now

pink as the boy’s ear,

where all night a line of cold

traces the rim, the lobe,

circles down, chills, and recedes.


Linda Bierds, “Ultima Thule” from The Stillness, the Dancing (New York:
Henry Holt, 1988). Copyright © 1988 by Linda Bierds. Reprinted with the
permission of the author.

Source: The Stillness the Dancing (Henry Holt & Co., 1988)

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Poet Bio

Linda Bierds
Born in Delaware, Linda Bierds lived in Anchorage until she was seven. She attended both undergraduate and graduate school at the University of Washington, where she is a professor and director of the creative writing program. Her current residence is on Bainbridge Island, located in the Central Puget Sound Basin. She is the author of seven volumes of poetry and appears regularly in The New Yorker. She has won several major awards and grants including the Guggenheim and the “genius” grant from the MacArthur Foundation. See More By This Poet

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