Elk

Northeast Sweden, 1981

When I walked the tracks out of Skellefteå
I walked with men on boulders big as skulls
it’s where I learnt the ways and the song

we’d walk the tracks to the iron mine, and back
I always took the left, Dad the right, his duty—
to keep the line clear, of rock, of bones and birch

trees felled over the tracks, when the reindeer
were wild and the Arctic fox still moved south
for the most it was rodents and those cold rocks.

In the distance a bull elk lay across one track
the brown slump of weight rolled into the ground
with a span of antlers like petrified angel wings

when Dad tied them off with rope at my back, I walked
the way home, but it was like I could fly, with wings
of bone lifting me over the rocks in the midnight sun.

 

 

Times of Not Running

We come to what looks like a branch
sticking up from under the deep snow.
I go in and see they’re actually two sets
of deer antlers. Dad almost lost an eye

when he was a boy so he says ‘go easy’
and I grip the antlers, try to budge them
but their heads are set strong in the snow
and their feet to the ground underneath.

And when deer go to ground they run
over the hot tundra; their antlers protrude
through the clouds we walk, to remind us
as we come to what is only a branch.

 

 

Brim

Arctic Circle, Sweden

Across the grassy tundra and flowering
saxifrage— today we’ll cross into the Circle.
Here the trees tilt at 85° to a white sun
on open axis and the fox tracks run out of sight
like perforations that strap the earth.

We approach the line and Dad takes out
his old miner’s dial compass, holds it aloft
as we walk (it’s the size of a dinner plate:
made of wood and brass, with two viewing arms
and rotating glass bezels), he calls a reading
every second step.

The eye’s pupil widens slightly as you near
the poles and come up alongside the sun.
As we hit the line Dad tilts the compass my way—
as if to teach me something of perspective.
He won’t make the call till the needle hits
then passes the markerline.

His steps edge the needle over, our viewpoint
of the universe rim uprights itself
and starts to bloat overhead.

 

© Andrew Slattery

“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*

I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.

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* Gloria Steinem