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Poem: "Eiderdown" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith
ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "Eiderdown"

This poem was written outside the fishbowl sessions, during the half-price poetry sale in November 2012.  It's a response to a comment by catsittingstill about how the Fledging relates to children.  It has been sponsored by catsittingstill.  This poem belongs to the Fledgling Grace series, which you can explore further via the Serial Poetry page.

For this poem, I researched bird down, the Common Eider, the snowy owl and its symbolism.  I also explored the Inuit people of Sanikiluaq and their close relationship with eider ducks as mentioned in People of a Feather.




Eiderdown


The Inuit of Sanikiluaq
had long held a close relationship with the sea ducks
and rejoiced in the smart black-and-white wings of the males
or the softer brown-streaked buff of the females
when the Fledging came to the northern coast.

They were the first to notice
that while older children might suddenly gain wings,
infants did not, until they grew older.

They noticed that babies born after the Fledging,
however, came with wet little wings
that dried into natal down
just like the fuzzy brown ducklings.
The flight feathers came in later,
around teething time.

They noticed, also, that young people
bore the wings of their heritage --
which in Sanikiluaq mostly meant the Common Eider --
but might, in time, shed those early feathers
and moult into new plumage
reflective of some adult affinity.

The first was a teenager
who went to bed one night and woke
to find that he had shed his eider wings
for the black-flecked white of a snowy owl --
a shaman's bird, symbol of guidance and aid.

So the old shaman
took the boy under his wing
and began teaching him
the ways of the spirits.

They told these things to their neighbors
because the Fledging was unsettling for everyone
and people tried to share what news they had;
but it took a long time for confirmation to come
as they observed the wider population.
The Inuit just shrugged and went on noticing things.
One could not afford to be unobservant in the Arctic.

That summer, a visitor came north,
a girl barely into her womanhood
with the bright new wings of a bald eagle.
She had copper skin and sea-green eyes
and hair the white-blond of old snow,
gleaming like her white tail.

Her grandmother glared at the boys of the village
except for the owl-winged boy
who treated the girl as a sister
and nodded serenely at her story
of a vision sending her north with the wind
to trade wisdom between their tribes.

The mothers of the village still went
to the sea duck colony after the ducklings had grown,
and called the hens their sisters, and asked
for the eiderdown to make warm quilts
for their little ducklings to come,
and life went on.

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Comments
From: technoshaman Date: November 26th, 2012 02:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
Mmmmmm. Smart kid. :)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 26th, 2012 10:36 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yes...

They both are, really. I wanted to show that at least some traditions are still being passed along to the next generation, and that tribal cultures adapt to incorporate new things.
From: technoshaman Date: November 26th, 2012 10:40 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes...

*nods* .... and trade can be more than skins and cloth, it can be ideas as well. Now I see what you did there... :)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 26th, 2012 10:53 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes...

I'm delighted by the recent rise in intertribal cooperation over the last 5-10 years. People are really cooperating on activism now, and beginning to explore crowdfunding (which I think will be huge in native communities once more folks discover it). So I think, come the Fledging, there would be people looking to share ideas.

It's a way of weaving in the current trend of development. One of the perennial problems -- even among many native writers -- is a tendency to portray the First Nations as a dying breed. So much has been lost, and the reservations are a wreck (not by accident), that it's really hard to imagine a positive future. But people are still here and life goes on and changes come.
From: technoshaman Date: November 26th, 2012 11:07 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes...

I think they *were* dying... but with the rise of modern 21st century tech and the interconnectedness it brings, people are starting to think less "we should do that" (and not doing) and more "who can do this" (with a global reach) and "*we* can do this" (with a little help from friends scattered from Brisbane to Bremerton to Bristol to Berlin and beyond).... languages rescued, cultures shared, funds crowded :)

And the idea of "tribe" has been extended not to just blood kin or semi-hereditary clan, but to `ohana... and, yes, the activism cooperation has, after a somewhat slow start, really taken leaps and bounds since Occupy got started...

Mitakuye Oyasin. People are really starting to grok that...

I love living in the future. :)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 27th, 2012 02:58 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes...

>> I think they *were* dying... <<

For a while, people were actively trying to stamp them out: body, language, land, and soul. That lasted a lot longer than most folks realize, and it's still an intermittent problem today.

>> but with the rise of modern 21st century tech and the interconnectedness it brings, people are starting to think less "we should do that" (and not doing) and more "who can do this" (with a global reach) and "*we* can do this" (with a little help from friends scattered from Brisbane to Bremerton to Bristol to Berlin and beyond).... languages rescued, cultures shared, funds crowded :) <<

Precisely. I think it helps a lot just by making it easier for people to be seen and heard. Here are all our powwow pictures. Here's a guy describing his iPod in Navajo. Here are our family stories about surviving the Trail of Tears, the boarding schools, the suits with guns. Here's this book I wrote, here's a new business on the rez ...

>> And the idea of "tribe" has been extended not to just blood kin or semi-hereditary clan, but to `ohana... and, yes, the activism cooperation has, after a somewhat slow start, really taken leaps and bounds since Occupy got started... <<

From what I can tell, there's a growing tendency to identify as native (subset: tribe) rather than tribe (tangental connection: other natives). It's patchy, though, and arguments over who "counts" as Indian are still brutal.

>> Mitakuye Oyasin. People are really starting to grok that... <<

Sooth.

>> I love living in the future. :) <<

Me too!
kengr From: kengr Date: June 4th, 2017 08:38 am (UTC) (Link)
Y'know, between this poem and the one about the various Native American tribes, it occurs to me that shed feathers would become important both in practical ways (like using the kid's shed eiderdown for things) and spiritually.

Weaving shed adult feathers into various "heritage" artifacts. Having a headdress or whatever is appropriate with the feathers of various people who are important to you, or to the tribe would become *very* significant.

And various cultures that have ancestral altars or the like would probably save some feathers to add. "That is your great grandfather's feather, and that is his wife's, and..."



Edited at 2017-06-04 08:38 am (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: June 4th, 2017 10:19 am (UTC) (Link)

Thoughts

>> Y'know, between this poem and the one about the various Native American tribes, it occurs to me that shed feathers would become important both in practical ways (like using the kid's shed eiderdown for things) and spiritually.<<

That makes sense.

>>Weaving shed adult feathers into various "heritage" artifacts. Having a headdress or whatever is appropriate with the feathers of various people who are important to you, or to the tribe would become *very* significant.<<

Agreed, this fits tribal practices. One obvious application is that the sponsor would provide feathers for a Sun Dancer to wear.

>> And various cultures that have ancestral altars or the like would probably save some feathers to add. "That is your great grandfather's feather, and that is his wife's, and..." <<

That'd be the Asians. They do family altars. Greeks and Romans used to, the Pagans from those traditions still do.

Feel free to prompt for this if you'd like to see it written out.
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