Hearing the Wendigo

All the Native Americans from Appalachia to the Hudson Bay in Canada share a common dread of an elemental creature comprised entirely of wind. Algernon Blackwood documented the myth in in horror tale, "The Wendigo." Wendigo stories have been campfire horror tales for generations, embellished with each telling. I first wrote about the Wendigo in 1989, and I have mentioned it in several other poems. Here is the original in a new revision, suitable considering all the tornadoes we have had lately.


There is a place
     where the winds meet howling
cold nights in frozen forest
     snapping the tree trunks
     in haste for their reunion.
Gone is the summer they brooded in,
     gone the autumn of their awakening.
Now at last they slide off glaciers,
     sail the spreading ice floes,
     hitch a ride with winter.
Great bears retreat and slumber,
     owls flee
          and whippoorwills shudder.
Whole herds of caribou
     stampede on the tundra
     in the madness of hunger,
     the terror of thunder-winds..
The snow-piled Huron packs tight
     the animal skins around his doorway,
hopes his small fire and its thin smoke
escape the notice of boreal eyes.
He will not look out at the night sky,
     for fear of what might look back.
Only brave Orion witnesses
     as icy vectors collide in air.
Trees break like tent poles,
     earth sunders to craters
     beneath the giant foot-stamps.
Birds rise to whirlwind updraft
     and come down bones and feathers.

I have not seen the Wendigo —
     (I scarcely dare to name it!) —
     the wind’s collective consciousness,
     id proud and hammer-hard.
To see is to be plucked
     into the very eye of madness.
Yet time and again as I walked here,
     alone in the snow
     by this solitary and abandoned lake,
I have felt its upward urge
     like hands beneath my shoulders,
     lifting and beckoning.

It says, You dream of flying?
     Then fly with me!

I answer No,
not with your hungry eye above me,
not with those teeth like roaring chain saws,
not with those pile-driving footsteps —

Like the wise Huron sachem,
     the long-gone Erie, the Mingo,
     the Seneca, the Onondaga,
like all Hodenosaunee-born,
     I too avert my eyes
     against the thing that summons me.

Screaming, the airborne smiter
     rips off the tops of conifers,
crushes a row of power-line towers,
peppers the hillside with saurian tracks,

then leaps straight up at the Dog Star,

as though its anger could crack the cosmos,
as though the sky bowl were not infinite,
and wind alone could touch the stars
     and eat them.

Op. 525, 1989
Rev 2011 as Op. 856


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