for the first time: “Silence. / Eyes / meeting eyes.” There are eyes that warn and curse as well as eyes that seduce: the eyes of the dead brothers, bobbing in the Bee Woman’s cooking pot; the look the Bee Woman gives Kiviuq, which causes him to faint (“Is she a spirit? They say you can tell by looking at the eyes”). Meanwhile Kiviuq keeps an eye out for the snow bunting (his familiar) who knows the way ahead for a kayak, even across the ice or through a storm. Follow the birds, travel by song: the reader’s eyes sweep across the tracks of letters on the page.
And yet The Owner of the Sea arises from a tradition intensely engaged with the question of how to best to tell a narrative, and what the listener might do with the words they are given. Price’s poems acknowledge this heritage by repeatedly referring to the power of words, the act of speech. Sedna forges her own narrative from the outset by refusing the suitors who are offered to her: “She keeps saying No.” Speech defies, and it also holds the power of persuasion. Sedna says: “send me a hunter, a powerful singer”. Yet the courtship song of the Fulmar she falls for is spellbinding in another sense; a masquerade, even: “the right song disguises any creature. When he sang he was a man to me, more than any local boy”. Song seduces, and it also holds the potential of salvation. In the end, it is Kiviuq’s singing that will shatter an icy stalactite and free his fox-wife from the underworld. Whether song also has the power to restore ice in the world above is a question to which no one can know the answer.
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