Itee Pootoogook, an Inuk and artist from Kimmirut, Baffin Island, was born in 1951 to Ishuhungitok and Paulassie Pootoogook. His drawings are characterized by an uncluttered gaze that sees what is directly before it, and an ability to find the profound in the simple. He died earlier this month of cancer; he was 63 years old.
Some artists are rooted in a place; this was Itee Pootoogook, very much so, and his drawings depict life in Nunavut. But great art travels, becomes universal. And so we have gathered poems from Germany, Russia, India and the USA, to accompany a selection of Itee’s drawings…
. . .
Hermann Hesse (1877-1962)
On a Journey
Don’t be downcast, soon the night will come,
When we can see the cool moon laughing in secret
Over the faint countryside,
And we rest, hand in hand.
Don’t be downcast, the time will soon come
When we can have rest. Our small crosses will stand
On the bright edge of the road together,
And rain falls, and snow falls,
And the winds come and go.
. . .
How Heavy the Days
How heavy the days are,
There’s not a fire that can warm me,
Not a sun to laugh with me,
Everything cold and merciless,
And even the beloved, clear
Stars look desolately down
– Since I learned in my heart that
Love can die.
Translations from the German: James Wright
. . .
Mohan Rana (born 1964, Delhi, India)
I saw the stars far off,
as far as I was from them,
in this moment I saw them,
in a moment of the twinkling past.
In the boundless depths of darkness,
these hours hunt the morning through the night.
And I can’t make up my mind:
am I living this life for the first time?
Or repeating it, forgetting as I live,
that first breath – every time?
Does the fish too drink water?
Does the sun feel the heat?
Does light see the dark?
Does the rain also get wet?
Do dreams ask questions about sleep – as I do?
I walked a long, long way…
and when I saw, I saw the stars – close by.
Today it rained all day long
and words washed away from your face.
Translation from Hindi: Lucy Rosenstein and Bernard O’Donoghue
. . .
Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva (1892-1941)
from: Poems for Blok (1916)
Your name is a—bird in my hand,
a piece of ice on my tongue.
The lips’ quick opening.
Your name—four letters.
A ball caught in flight,
a silver bell in my mouth.
A stone thrown into a silent lake
is—the sound of your name.
The light click of hooves at night
Your name at my temple
—sharp click of a cocked gun.
kiss on my eyes,
the chill of closed eyelids.
Your name—a kiss of snow.
Blue gulp of icy spring water.
With your name—sleep deepens.
Translation from the Russian original: Ilya Kaminsky and Jean Valentine
. . .
Angelyn Hays (Texas/Florida, USA)
One of the Cardinal Seasons
After the hardest snow of the year
the birches huddle in rows.
Ice breaks their wooden bones,
and hangs them by the thumbs
in a March sun too weak to heal them.
Birds call to each other
from the tangle of bare arms.
A red-dark Cardinal feasts in my backyard,
singing to warm his lungs. He enters
just as I am ready to leave.
I had stopped the clock,
put away my mother’s china,
and wanted to sink to timeless black.
But the bird came for me,
signaling me to rise, recall his password.
The window is framed by trees, no longer trees,
sky, no longer sky, but now a watch
by which I measure my days.
Shouting the weight of his pleasure
from fevered beak, he rolls a black eye
and we click off the minute.
Then he swoops over my white garden,
drunk as Li Po, his floating path
a dance on an empty swingset of wind.
Michael Valentine (Maryland, USA)
A Meadow in March
Early Spring snowfall
dusts late Winter bloom
crystalline fractals piling gently
to rest upon vibrant petal
The field now
a riot of pixelated colour
struggling to be seen under
blank canvas tarp of
Winter’s last throes.
Portrait of Nature’s perfect balance
Yin meeting Yang
each becoming the other
flower melts snow into water flowing into flower.
Demonstration of Tao
in this limbo-time between the seasons
that is no longer Winter
and not yet Spring,
when the Universe gives lessons
to remind us that
there is no such thing as
. . .
Mitchell Walters (Temecula, California, USA)
I walked to the river and back.
Something told me I should.
I saw things I hadn’t seen before:
A dog. A deer. A stream.
I saw an old abandoned shack.
It was made entirely of wood.
I walked to the shack and opened the door.
And that was the start of my dream.
. . . . .