We ***** our tents on the hardpack
of the town’s airport,
rows of stakes and guidelines
like a fishing wharf in the tundra;
the mail plane comes at one,
an overfull vulture circling above
before looping North towards
the Gates of the Arctic for the approach run.
The landing is
a front row rock concert
where the bassist only knows one chord
and the drummer is still setting up:
the tone resonates in the ooze of our marrow;
that is to say, the landing is simple,
drifting over alpine fir and spruce tops
with ballet grace
before cutting power
and slamming wheels to gravel.
Yesterday’s rain feeds the Yukon today.
Its hands reach for a hard cloud ceiling
and its lows, its troughs call my name,
call my name, call my name,
endless waves in the river’s center,
arcing with storm energy
and grip strength.
Other planes come, and leave,
and helicopters set down near us.
We play cards in their wind,
drink camp coffee that strains
through the teeth and plugs the gaps;
we watch and we wait
for seats that never come,
waiting to leave this airport runway,
waiting to fight the big fires.
We hear the boats before we see them,
curving around the clay banks
and we line our packs along
their aluminum walls.
We sit in plastic bags
to keep dry of river spray,
I hear my name again,
and another mail plane
takes off. The hardpack vibrates
under the wheels, the engines scream
their one note show,
and the DC-3 sinks off the runway towards
the Yukon – and us – before catching itself,
then slowly, so slowly we can almost touch
the silver belly, it growls to the North
and loops South towards Fairbanks.