As If I Could

Had I remembered my goggles, had the wind not slung darts
of sleet at my corneas, had I been able to keep both eyes open

at the same time to watch my teammates, my six huskies pulling
in their harness, hooked to my offroad rig as we trained

on gravel roads, and had I tucked hand warmers into
my gloves so I could feel rather than see if my fingers

still gripped the steering wheel, I might have noticed
it even sooner

++++++how it sat, hunched on the muck of a freezing
pond, listening to some restlessness, how it pointed its rapier

head to where the latefall sun might have been, unfolded leaden
wings, launched its bluegray bulk skyward, and juddered

the air as it flapped overhead, as if to say, do not go
on, ++you fool, ++fly south instead, as if I could,

as if I was not bound to this tundra,
this day, these dogs by our bottomless craving

for cold.


Click here to read Kathleen Kimball-Baker's compositional note.

Image: Dog sled by Emil Larsen, licensed under CC 2.0.

Kathleen Kimball-Baker:

Before a musher ever hooks her team to a dog sled, each fall she must slowly build up her dogs’ endurance and strength by what’s called dry-land training.

Once temperatures drop below 50 degrees, we can safely run the dogs and train on bare ground or gravel roads using an off-road, four-wheeler. For hours and hours, miles and miles, in daylight and in darkness, and in all kinds of weather. It’s hard, exhausting, often muddy work. And then there are times when we’re rewarded by otherworldly encounters with wildlife.

The couplets and longer lines in the poem are a nod to the two “lines” of dogs running side by side in a team and to the length of our runs. During revisions, I saw the opportunity to play with tension, using one long sentence, broken mid-way through the poem by an em-dash and one indented line.

The description of the encounter came quickly, but the close was tough. Until the irony hit me: the crane’s instinctual sensibility to flee cold and my dogs’ and my drive to run toward it. We not only love winter, but we yearn for and come alive during those months when our world is coldest.

This and other dog-sledding poems are part of a chapbook I’m compiling. The brilliant English poet Jude Nutter, who understands my obsession with sled dogs, winter, cold, and wildlife encounters, is critiquing the chapbook poems, always nudging me toward compression of the narrative in service of the lyric.

I kept a blog of my rookie year, which includes photos, videos, and reflections:

Kathleen Kimball-Baker
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