Speakers of Eyak

I speak the broken mouths of trappers
and the men that come for trees;
smooth words, rounded
like the barrels of guns they polish.

I have need of conversation.
My years are many
and to some that come and go,
I will tell old truths as I remember.

They may recall them,
when the snow has covered me
and act on any good that’s in them.
I speak with their curved sounds,

but there is also Yanwek –
with her I can talk straight.
Our voices sharp and cutting
in our throats like old spears,

talk as we have always talked.
We say how now
we can’t keep out the cold with furs.
We sing of moons cut from the ice
and other moons, reflected in the holes.

There are believed to be 20 languages for which there is only one speaker left in the world. Eyak is still spoken in South-East Alaska by two aged sisters, if they meet.

Simon Williams