The mussel hunters of Kangiqsujuaq

This poem won First place in 2-Day Poem Contest 2016

Just half an hour, the narrator explains,

until the tide returns. I watch the hunters

work to pierce an aperture, human-sized,


in the ocean's crumpled mantle. I watch

them as they slip down into the eerie, blue

hollow. They are undersea now, but there


is no sea there, just barnacle-spotted stones,

furuncle clustering to carbuncle,

marring what smoothness comes of an eternity


spent pressed upon by water. The Arctic's

slanting light glows emerald through ancient

sea-ice. Strands of kelp, stems of bladderwrack


hang like streamers, like tossed bouquets caught

in air, spinning out of time. On the ocean

floor, the hunters hunch, plunging bare hands


into seaweed, feeling for this fortune

worth risking their necks for. Their energy

is fervent, keen: they pick until their fingers


plump and prune, salt-crusted, numbing as they

clatter their mussels into aluminum

pails. Their treasure glistens onyx, bearded


with broken threads that seconds ago held

creature to sea bed.  Against the hush,

a tidal sound returns; the hunters' voices


rise, becoming anxious, a little hinky.

Minutes to escape, emerge, head for some

place solid as the water rushes in


with force enough to animate the groaning

slabs of ice, to float them back up forty

feet as though they were not made of crushing


weight. I watch the hunters carry home

their feast, the sky as pink as the soft flesh

waiting in each tight-closed slick, black shell.