Karuk Nation

1.    Root, Antler, Fork, Braid

His daughter Root. That wasn’t her name,
and he called her that. I found her
at the driveway’s end, a cruel-looking girl. I asked
what was she doing out here in the dark.
Come with, if you want.
House built into the hill.
Antlers propped against a propane tank.
He came out with a long, steel, grilling fork
pointed at me, Your mother’s the one
with ribbons in her braids?

2.    Center-of-the-World

America was not a word here.
Ikxareeyav had been gods. One god,
Eel-with-a-Swollen-Belly, lived
at the downstream end of the world
and swam the river-earth and stopped
to stack rocks here on the north side.
Those were singing places for the people.
He stacked rocks on both sides of the river.
He had made the Center-of-the-World.
That’s a story for children. It was before dawn.
Huge toppled cairns. You’ll die
if you fall in, so don’t. We crossed
a field of halfsunk stones in the canyon.

3.    Karuk People

Ninivássi vúra,
vitkiniyâac ta kóova,
tu’áxxaska —
I slept in the hunting shack
with his mother. He’d planned
to sleep in the tent with mine;
she said go, and he stayed out all night
with his gun. Between the boards,
where the shack’s mossed wall
had warped, I watched him
run a cloth along his gun
and plug his eye into the scope
aimed into the zodiac.
What kind of cancelled immortality
was this? And yet he was the opposite
of what at twelve I understood
of death. He tilted at the moon.
— My back,
it has become like a mountain ridge,
so thin,
so thin.

4.    Prayer for Ending Stories

He sat in the needles,
thumbing the bone
of his knifehandle.
I stood behind him,
chin on his head.
His mother was
nearly blind.
Her songs were
repetitious and
about extinction.
— Ninivássi vúra,
    vitkiniyâac ta kóova,

T. Zachary Cotler is the author of House with a Dark Sky Roof (Salt, 2011). His poems have appeared recently in Poetry, Paris Review, Republic of Letters, and other magazines. In 2006, he was awarded the Amy Clampitt Fellowship. In 2011, he’ll be Writer-in-Residence at the Prichard Centre in Perth, Australia. He’s a founding editor of The Winter Anthology. His work will also be featured in the upcoming print issue of The Portland Review.