Pressed along the lip of the lávvu, our bodies were rocks around a fire pit.
Tarpaulin crinkled under our shuffling. Smoke overhead curled
into the pinnacle of this conical tent, tonguing a hunk of reindeer leg
hung from the forked poles, freshly slaughtered for a herder’s birthday.
The herders of this siida passed a knife, its bearer standing to carve
chunks of meat and sear them in the fire’s lick. Though the daylight beyond
our tent wouldn’t melt during this Arctic summer, in our cocoon they drank for the darkness,
tossing back moonshine and cranberry until safe enough to hand me, an intruder, the knife.
Sapling birch hissed steam, its freshness dampening the flames. To reignite it,
said the youngest man, picture a love as you blow on the logs.
I hunched, cheek to floor, and sighed. The fire roared back. Who is she,
the herders teased, making these embers growl like a wolverine? Whose spirit had I conjured,
my breath sounding out a silent yoik:
a song of lyric and yodel, chant and trance, yearning for places and people,
not merely stoking memories but calling them from elsewhere: enchantment,
akin to a spell, kindling that which you love, and potent when sung onto flame.
This was my yoik: an ex whose cancer spread as spring destroys a snowscape;
a pal whose alcoholic heart would soon halt, becoming tranquil as the fjords;
a divorcée whose incandescence was fire enough to never need warmth again.
These basins of attraction summon me back, echoing through the latitudes,
evoking a home I left, expecting to build elsewhere but lost along the way.
Lávvu: A tent constructed around a tripod of forked poles. The structure is used, among other things, as a temporary dwelling or a place to smoke meat.
Siida: A community of reindeer-herding households working together, traditionally based around kinship and tied to customary rights to land. Membership of a siida can be seasonal: People might belong to different groups during different times of the year as they follow their herds.
Yoik (or Joik): Sámi song, called luohti or juoiggus in the Northern Sámi language. Fourth stanza provides a definition.
(Published in SAPIENS)