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Monday, 2 March 2009

The Apparitional Canoe

Captain James Cook and Chief Maquina, Nootka Sound, 1778

The Apparitional Canoe

Before contact
peace in every upstream inlet

in early summer
the sea is glassy calm

fog banks form the margin of
the japan current

and roll in morning
after morning

sea otters swim
in pods among kelp

the sea is glassy calm

until one morning
the evil star dawns

with the white
sail on the horizon


The first incoming
apparitional canoe

a singing
wind rushed

through cedars -- a
silver moonlit

beached whale gleamed
out on the Sound

wave washed otters slept
on kelp beds



They're easy together
inside the pod
when there's no hunting
the yelp of the little
ones is not heard
on good days
when the weather is mild they move
like the vowels in the word
off shore to browse
among sea
urchin and mussel
encrusted submerged reefs
or in drifting patches of
floating kelp


Capt. James Cook -- His Report: on the Sea Otter

The fur of these animals, as mentioned in the Russian accounts, is certainly softer and finer than any others we know of and, therefore, the discovery of this part of the continent of North America where so valuable an article of commerce may be met with, cannot be a matter of indifference. There is not the least doubt, that a very beneficial fur trade may be carried on with the inhabitants of this vast coast. But unless a northern passage be found practicable, it seems rather too remote from Great Britain to receive any emolument from it.

Infestation of the Merchandise

"One could say that in taking on a cargo of furs one takes on also a cargo of lice"-- Marchand, 1790

Particularly in the early years when
to get their hands on a few novel articles
of trade the chiefs were willing
to strip the sea otter cloaks
from their own backs and as Cook
says thereby reduce themselves
to a state of nudity

many if not most of the skins exchanged
were -- Cook again --"very lousy"

Brass (Cook at Nootka)

metal was especially demanded
particularly brass with such eagerness
before we left hardly a bit
of brass was to be found in the ships
even officers' jackets without buttons



Cook and Maquina at Nootka

Maquina Greeting Cook at Friendly Cove
(Nootka Sound, 1778)

A canoe remarkable for a
singular head which

had a bird's eye and a bill
of an enormous size

painted on it
a person who was in the bow

seemed to be a chief
many feathers hanging from his head

his face painted in extraordinary manner

The Bird Ceremonial Greeting for Cook

From the biggest and last in line
of the Nootkan dugouts

the chief
stood up strewing handfuls of

feathers over the water
towards us on the ship

as some of his fellow
Indians threw red dust

or powder likewise --
and made a long harangue

holding in his hand a carved bird
of wood

as large as a pigeon
which he rattled and was

no less vociferous in his harangue
two or three natives likewise

had their hair quite skewed over
with small feathers

others with large ones stuck
into different parts of their heads

The Canoe Song

While this ceremony continued
the others sat in their canoes

a little distance from the ship
and one sang

a very agreeable air
with a degree of softness and melody

which we could not have expected
the word haela friend

being often repeated
as the burden of the song

The Ship Boston

The Indians rifled
the ship Boston

dressed up in women's clothing
and sacks

pulled high stocking caps
over their heads

with powder horns
and bags of shot

came from all around
to party four days

till two Boston ships
the Juno and the Mary

came into the Sound to trade
the Indians

scared them off with great
whooping and shooting

of guns
signalling no trade



Anonymous said...

I like these very much. I've always been fascinated by the culture of the South Seas and by the voyages of Cook and Banks and co. I'm also absolutely charmed by sea otters. Delightful creatures.

Great stuff.


Amazing stuff here. I was in Museum of Natural History in January (the second time w/ my four year old Johnny, first time last March), went through those galleries filled w/ 'artifacts' from the northwest 'Native Americans -- here in these poems/photos too. We were reading Pound last night, epic a "poem including history" (for which all thanks).

TC said...


Thanks for taking the tour of this mini-museum.

Radish King said...

I love this. I have had a steep fascination with Cpt Cook since I was a girl & a pirate (I was not at all a Barbie type girl). Beautiful.

TC said...

I think you'd make a good pirate. Pirates have to have a bit of pluck.