Summer 2010 • Vol. XXXII No. 3 Poetry |

Poems from Home

The following bilingual poems are from the Ahtna Athabaskan language of interior Alaska, where it gets as cold as seventy degrees below zero in midwinter. They are from John Smelcer's The Complete Ahtna Poems (foreword by Noam Chomsky). The son of an Alaska Native father, John learned how to speak Ahtna from every living elder who spoke the language. For three years, he was the tribally appointed executive director of the Ahtna Heritage Foundation where he worked with elders to produce The Ahtna Noun Dictionary. Nowadays, John is the only tribal member who can read and write in Ahtna, now one of the most endangered languages in the world. These poems are among only a handful in existence, the only literature of the culture extant. Home Standing on a bank of the Copper River,       snowy mountains in the distance. Waiting for the river to reclaim his blood. Waiting for the earth to reclaim his bones. Ghak'ae Yihwnighi'aa sdaghaay 'Atna',    

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John Smelcer is the author of a dozen poetry books, including Indian Giver, Without Reservation, Beautiful Words, and Songs from an Outcast. His poems have appeared in the Atlantic, the Kenyon Review, and elsewhere.

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