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Aubade: Morning Aurora

For Aldona Jonaitis

Dawn aurora churning
this morning
whole sky
a bright ether dream
the pink-tinged green
just before consciousness
fades. . .

This morning
your surgeon
holds in her capable hands
the tough purple fist
of your womb, the two nubbly
walnuts on their stalks,
ashes, ashes...

When you wake,
parched,
no water allowed,
lick your lips,
sigh through them
a single breath
the one the lights can hear, the one
that brings the sky
within reach

then another—breathe
cannibal dance,
red cedar, crooked
beak of heaven.
Picture your healed self
astride Orion
blizzard stallion
shying from ash in wind
shying from bare-limbed birch.

So many legends
about the lights—
that just the right
whistle might lure
them down, that
wherever they touch
ground, blood
must follow.

Prairie Schooner, Vol. 71, No. 2 (Summer 1997), pp. 69-71

Author Comment

“This poem represents the life passage of a woman ending her child-bearing years. In this case, my friend was having a hysterectomy, so there's the trauma of surgery (and then mending) involved. The sky was still dark—as it is during most of winter in Interior Alaska—so we got a spectacular view of the aurora borealis on the way to the hospital. I compare the gauzy light green tendrils of light to anesthesia, and in the last stanza I bring in a couple of legends about the northern lights. My friend is a scholar of northwest coast Native art and culture, so the cannibal dance and the crooked beak of heaven refer to a particular ancient dance and a formidably powerful dance mask. This friend is also a horsewoman, and her favorite mount at that time was a horse with the name of that great hunter constellation, Orion. All the ashes? You can figure out how those shapeshifters fly.

“Also, I was playing against the expectations inherent in a traditional aubade. Instead of lovers reluctantly waking after a night of passion, we get a woman heading to the hospital to have her womb removed.”