Denise Duhamel: The Woman With Two Vaginas

Poetry based on Eskimo mythology

1994 Salmon Run Poetry Prize
1995 American LIbrary Association Award Nominee

Copyright © 1995 by Denise Duhamel
All rights reserved

For permission to reprint contact the author at

A story is not true unless the storyteller puts something of his own in it.
-Anonymous storyteller from Nain, Labrador


The Rumpless Ones
The Consequences of Wife-Swapping With a Giant
Blubber Girl, Blubber Boy
The Man Who Liked to Have His Back Scratched
Learning How to Make Love
The Man With the Short Penis
The Crazy Man


A Different Kind of Birth
Upside Down
The Moon Man
Three Mothers
Every Taboo Is Holy
The Baby Who Was Almost a Baby
The Starving Mother
The Starving Baby
The Magic Orphan
The One Who Suddenly Grew Big
The Spirit of the Trash
A Daughter and a Dog With the Same Name
The Putting Away of Dolls


The Raping of the Sun
Terror in the Entrance Way
Four Wives
The Man Who Got His Drink of Water in the End
The Great Liar
The Lazy Turnit
The Raven Who Liked to Dine on Eyes
Sedna, The Sea Goddess
A Woman's Story Comes to Life
The Grandmother's Revenge


My Grandmother Is My Husband
Old Age
The Woman Who Was Kind To Insects
The Woman With Two Vaginas
The Girl Who Came Back to Life
The Boy Who Longed To Be a Ghost
Single Mother
My Mother Stole My Wife
The Virtues of Little Husbands
The Big Woman
The Two Women Who Found Freedom


How Mist Came To Be
How Mosquitoes Came To Be
The Invisible Men
The Hollow Men
The Half-People
Mighty Mouse
The Murdered Shaman Gets His Revenge
The Glutton
The Boy Who Carried Home Fish In His Stomach
Shooting Stars
The First White Men
White Men, White Food
The Shaman
Pea Pods and Bladders



The Rumpless Ones

Back then only Sun Woman had a vagina.
Only Sun Woman and her brother Moon Man
had anuses. They traveled, not knowing their privilege
until they came upon a settlement. Outside the igloos
were lumps of caribou breasts and rich suet --
the villagers had to suck their meat without swallowing
since there was no way for them to expel it.
Babies back then were cut from the womb, the mother
sewn back together with braided caribou sinew.
Sister Sun and Brother Moon wanted the kind of love
siblings could not give to each other
so they looked among the people for companions.
Moon Man, to consummate his marriage, took a knife
and gently slit his wife in the crotch. Instead of blood,
a vulva and vagina appeared. Sister Sun
was the first in the village to give birth
by breaking her water and going into labor.
Her baby was the first of the village to have both genitals
and an anus. The women of the settlement sang their praises,
wielding knives between their legs. Then, men
and women alike seized meat forks
and stabbed themselves in the rear.
Those who hit the right places gained anuses
and the party began. People, like none other before them,
gobbled down food and gulped up love.

The Consequences of Wife-Swapping With a Giant

There was a giant who was particularly fond of humans.
He camped near them, his lice -- white bears and white wolves.
He drank whole lakes when he grew thirsty
and generated winds throughout Siberia. He once fell in love
with an Inuk woman, and since he was already married,
convinced the woman's husband to swap his wife
for the giant's. The husband was tempted by the thought
of enormous green female genitals
and agreed without asking his wife's opinion. The giant
picked up the woman in his palm and blew back her hair
with a sigh. The man swam in the folds of the female giant's vulva
and she barely knew he was there. He disappeared
in her vagina and was never seen again.
Although he tried to be kind, the giant
split the woman in half. He returned to his giant wife,
the one he was made for. As they kissed,
ice floes cracked. The whole ground shook.

Blubber Girl, Blubber Boy

Her black hair was as slick as a seal's, her face as round
as any planet. Her eyes were empty bowls
after a measly meal, her first young love dead
at the bottom of the sea. He had drowned while fishing,
the villagers told her, without the proof of a body. Other suitors
began to call, but all she could see was the ocean inside them.
Friends bought her gifts of blubber, the consoling magic of whales
that was both food and lamp oil, the energy
of life. The mourning girl carved her love's face
in the fat that once breathed between the skin and muscle
of a swimming mammal. Her creation looked so much like him,
she continued to carve his whole body, miniature details coming back to her
as though she were still lying in his viable arms. She rubbed
her soft blubber sculpture against her vulva
until it grew, first the size of a puppet, then a child.
The blubber began to rub back, sprouting at incredible speed
and when the girl came, her dead love was alive again.
The villagers thought it a miracle. There was a party
and a wedding the very next day. The young couple
kept their secret, the blubber lubricant, a special part
of their sex. When it was time for the boy to go back to work,
he set out in the very same fishing boat from which he fell
and drowned. The girl begged him to stay home,
but the boy convinced her that they were running low on salted mackerel.
Out in the sun, he felt himself beginning to melt,
his skin not quite human skin, his heart beating double time.
He paddled to shore as quickly as he could, then ran.
He was only half his man-size when he reached the igloo they shared.
The girl packed her husband in snow, massaging his body,
watching him grow. As the years went on, she never used the word
burden, though she grew tired doing all the heavy work herself.
Blubber boy lost his spunk, his fear of anything warm interfering
with even their lovemaking. He feared fire,
sweat, circulation, sparks, the very insulation from which he'd sprung.

The Man Who Liked to Have His Back Scratched

He could have had anything he wanted.
A caribou with special powers had granted him a wish.
But all he craved were his wife's long nails against his back.
Every night after the hunt, this is what he'd ask:
Wife, please scratch me hard.
This wife loved her husband and worried because his back
was getting so red.
But his itch was as deep as the middle of the earth.
When she stopped, he cried and could not fall asleep.
This wife loved her husband and worried because he
was starting to bleed.
But his satisfaction was as far away as the sun.
He begged her to get the scraper she used on hides and use it on him.
This wife loved her husband who was now only bones.
She kept stepping over the pile long after her neighbors buried him.

Learning How to Make Love

This couple couldn't figure it out.
The man licked his wife's genitals while she stared straight ahead.
The woman poked her husband's testicles with her nose.
The man put his toe in the folds of the woman's vulva.
The woman took the man's penis under her armpit.
Neither one of them wanted to be the first to admit
something was off. So it went on --
the man put his finger in his wife's navel.
The woman batted her eyelashes against the arch of her husband's foot.
They pinched each other's earlobes. They bit each other's rear ends.
To perpetrate the lie, they ended each encounter with a deep sigh.
Then one day while the husband was hunting,
a man stopped by the igloo and said to the wife:
I hear you have been having trouble.
I can show you how to make love.

He took her to bed and left before the husband came home.
Then the wife showed her husband,
careful to make it seem like the idea sprang
from both. After all these years of rubbing one's face against the other's belly
or stroking a male elbow behind a female knee,
this couple had a lot of catching up to do. They couldn't stop to eat or sleep
and grew so skinny they died. No one found them for a long time.
And by then, their two skeletons were fused into one.


Everyone knows not to have sex after handling a corpse.
But Him-Whose-Penis-Stretches-Down-To-His-Knees
pointed to his groin and said, "This big fellow isn't afraid of taboos."
His wife warned him, but he just laughed as he rolled her onto her back.
The next day a huge raven rose up from a boulder
and grabbed the penis of Him-Whose-Penis-Stretches-Down-To-His-Knees.
The raven tugged as though the penis were a frozen piece of fish.
The raven tugged until he tore off most of the penis, then flew away.
Now people from the village point to the man
whose urges couldn't wait one more day.
They taunt him by calling out his new name: Him-Whose-Penis-


There was a husband who married a wife he found so beautiful
that his penis was in a state of constant arousal.
His wife was delicate and needed her sleep, but the needy penis
kept after her night and day. She served her husband dinner
and he wanted to have sex. Her shoulder brushed his as she passed
in the igloo's passage way and he wanted to have sex again.
He often woke her up in the middle of the night, his hard penis
nudging against her soft thigh.
Soon he'd rubbed inside her so many times, that her vagina
wore away. The husband didn't see his mistake
and stroked his penis between her knees until his wife had no more legs.
He used up her belly and her arms. Her breasts were next
to disappear. When nothing was left that he could touch,
Him-Whose-Penis-Never-Slept ejaculated into his wife's shadow.
It vanished, his semen a liquid ghost dripping down a lonely snow wall.

The Man Wwith the Short Penis

His two wives never mentioned it, because, other than that,
he was a nice husband. He hunted big caribou
and told good stories. He let them sleep near him,
where it was warm. But one day when they were curing the meat
while their fired husband rested, one said to the other,
"Do you love your husband?"
"Yes," she answered, "Do you?"
They nudged each other and went to the husband's bed.
They took off his blanket, then his pants.
They meant to arouse him but instead they burst out laughing
at his tiny flaccid penis which was barely even there.
That woke up the husband. And though the wives wouldn't tell
why they were laughing, the husband guessed. He asked them to make a fire
and when they did, he poured oil all over it.
He threw them in one by one, then jumped in himself,
his shame that big, his penis that small.

The Crazy Man

Kinnaq could not get his penis into any of the normal places.
He often saw women he wanted to fuck,
but somehow they always got away
at the last minute. Kinnaq took four girls,
one by one, across the river just to get to the last one,
the one he thought the prettiest. When finally
he had her in his kayak, he let the current take them

downstream. The girl shouted
that they were going the wrong way,
and sensing danger, took the sinew
that held her braids and tied Kinnaq's parka
to his kayak. Then she begged him to pull over to the bank
so she could shit. When he did, she ran up the bluff,
beyond a point where Kinnaq could see her.
By the time he began to chase her,
the intricate knots the girl had made
forced him to drag his kayak with him. He easily gave up,
spotting a lemming hole. He took out his penis
and fucked the burrow instead.

Another time, Kinnaq fucked the ventilation hole
on the roof of an igloo in a strange village.
Two old women who lived inside smelled his penis
and began to argue over who would have the man first.
Giggling, they chased Kinnaq all the way to his kayak,
but he didn't find the old women attractive.
He pushed off down river, his departure an insult to them,
an insult to their defiled snow hut. The old women
cursed Kinnaq's penis, which they called an usak.
As he paddled away, he felt his penis growing, not as a result

of lust, not as a result of cold. He stuffed his lengthy usak
into his boot, then when it wouldn't stop getting bigger,
dragged it behind his boat. The children waiting on shore for him
thought Kinnaq's penis was a catch, so they chopped
what they thought was a strange fish into bits
and began chewing pieces of it.


One day a fisherman's penis got tangled up in his harpoon line.
The fisherman was never really good at catching seals
and as both prey and hunter tugged and hauled in opposite directions,
the man felt all the strength gush out of his penis.
He was relieved, if the truth be known.
He went home and dressed up like a woman.
He called himself Vagina and announced he was in need of a husband.
His mother was not happy about this.
She threatened to kick her son, who was now her daughter, out of the house
if he didn't again dress like a man and go out on the hunt.
Vagina knew a little magic, so she stripped the skin from her body
until she was just a skeleton. Her mother dropped dead in fright.
Vagina put her skin back on and started to behave
more and more like a woman. She fretted with her hair
and drew little tattoos all over her arms. Monthly
she made cuts at her groin so she could bleed.
She spent her days quietly softening fox skins with her teeth.
Vagina was still having trouble getting a husband
when a neighbor agreed to loan hers. When Vagina
removed her dress, the neighbor's husband
noticed her penis and called Vagina a madman.
Again, Vagina removed her skin as if to prove deep down
there was no difference between women and men
and their skeletons. Instead of consenting to have sex,
the man was so frightened he fell dead, like Vagina's mother, on the spot.
Vagina thought at least she could adopt
and then a child would provide her with company.
There was an orphan no one else would have.
Vagina tended to him like the kindest of mothers
until one day the boy demanded blubber.
"Can't you see I'm a woman?" Vagina said,
"I'm not allowed on the hunt. Find yourself a father,
a husband for me, and then we'll have plenty to eat."
The orphan was sharp. He had seen Vagina pissing
while standing up. He accused his mother of being a man.
Vagina, on impulse, became a skeleton again.
The orphan, instead of being scared, ran his fingers
over his mother's eyeball sockets and ribs. He drew a circle
around her pelvis and laughed. Vagina was forced
to use stronger magic. She reached into her chest
and pulled out her entrails. "There," she exclaimed,
"do you still insist on having some blubber?"
The orphan hugged his mother as some dogs
burst their way into the igloo,
stealing, among other things, Vagina's intestines.
She shouted, "Stop!" and chased the dogs
for miles. But before she could catch up, the biggest dog had eaten her heart.
And everyone knows a person is nothing without that.
Slowly Vagina wasted away as the orphan watched.
The orphan buried his mother beneath a pile of stones,
loving her in spite of her magic and foolish penis.
Loving his dead mother in spite of her skeleton games,
the orphan went to search for seals and whales and blubber on his own.

Every Taboo Is Holy

A Different Kind of Birth

A man and a woman couldn't have any children.
No one knew whose fault it was. This couple was unhappy
and the butt of jokes. The man sucked on his wife's breasts.
The woman cradled her husband in her arms.
But pretending about babies wasn't enough.
So the man headed South where a woman shaman,
who had gained her powers in being struck by lightning,
was sometimes able to help the barren.
The shaman handed the husband two dried fish.
If you want a boy, give your wife this boy fish.
It you want a girl, give her the fish that is a girl.

The hopeful husband jumped into his kayak
anxious to get the fertile fish home. But it wasn't long
until the husband grew hungry, and weighing
the fish in both of his palms, decided that it wouldn't be that bad
to eat the fish that was a girl, since it was a boy child he really wanted.
So he ate the female fish, the soft bones scraping his throat.
Soon a cramp, then a bout of nausea that wasn't seasickness.
By the time he arrived home, he could barely squeeze himself
out of his boat. His belly stretched far ahead of him
as though it wanted to leave and walk away on its own.
His wife recognized the signs and tended to her husband
day and night. When he gave birth to a little baby girl,
she slipped through him like a fish and flopped
into the cold air. What did it matter
if one of her mothers was also her father?


A long time ago, before women had individual wombs,
babies were dug up from the earth -- girl children
underfoot about six inches, boy children hidden deep.
Industrious women had babies like potatoes,
digging all day to find infants. Lazy women
had one or sometimes no children at all. Kaku
wanted very much to be a mother, but as she plowed
with sticks and spoons, she found only rocks,
an occasional ring. She traveled far, overturning
almost half of the earth and the snow that covered it,
but birthed no one. The village looked down on her,
a barren woman, and skeptic eyebrows rose
when Kaku complained that it wasn't fair,
she tried so hard. One day, after passing mothers
with as many as thirteen babies, Kaku
decided to take drastic measures. She began
to excavate a distant spot, searching for many days
past buried treasure, past coffins, through a hot red middle
she suspected was the sun. It was a long time before
she popped up like a bubble through a straw
and was way on the other side of the world.
Everything there was upside-down. Roots of trees
swirled where clouds should have been.
The snow on the ground was white sky.
People ate with the fines of their forks
pointed up. Kaku was surprised to learn
that in this part of the world, babies were bigger
than their mothers. She was quickly adopted
by a giant girl and boy baby who fed her
and washed her and dressed her in new clothes.
The babies were kinder than any parents
Kaku could have imagined and, for a while,
she was happy to be away from the cruelty
and gossip of her village. But sometimes
at night she pictured a wreath inside her
and the empty space within the curving garland
ached. Soon she ran away from her two huge parents,
past inverted hills, concaves in the earth,
past valleys that ballooned higher than any mountains
back home. The Claw-Trolls tore at her flesh.
A Scourge-Troll slapped a seal against her groin.
Still, she traveled on, beyond the violence,
as her adoptive baby-parents mourned her.
After many days she found another passageway
back to the other side of the earth, past worms,
past skeletons, past that hot middle, that red egg yolk.
When she had almost reached her village,
she saw a bulge of dirt that could only mean one thing.
She tore towards the breathing
where the most beautiful baby boy was sleeping.
She took him home to wash him off.
She slept with the old boy on her chest,
dreaming dream after dream -- that he would be
an explorer, some kind of a king, a rich man,
a man of great discovery.

The Moon Man

I tried everything to have a child,
slept with my naked genitals
tempting the moonlight, drank
water when the full moon shone on it.
The Moon Man was hogging all the unborn babies
and when he flew to earth to impregnate women,
he always skipped me. Instead he'd surprise a young girl
with a child, or throw down an infant
to a grandmother. It wasn't until my husband
sent a shaman to visit the Moon
that the Man up there even learned my name. But our baby
will be the best baby of all, all that more special
because we had to wait.
Now that I am finally pregnant
my husband gives me his semen every night
which feeds our baby while she's in me.
Sometimes a drop remains on his penis
as pearly white as the moon,
as pearly round as my womb.

Three Mothers

The first mother wanted a baby so badly that she said she would have slept with an evil spirit to get hirn. Of course, she didn't; she slept with her husband, but uttering those words cursed her. Her face shone, like any other woman's during pregnancy, yet this mother needed to eat so much meat to gain even the smallest amount of weight. When her baby was born, its eyes were red. It didn't appear to have formed a sex. Yet all this mother could see was love, so she bit the umbilical chord, then pulled the baby to her breasts.

The baby's fists were heavy and pointed like spears. It beat its mother and began to eat her. First her little finger, then her knuckles. Then her arms, then her torso. When nothing was left, the baby began to smack its own chest, until it cried its first cry, then died.

* * *

The second mother was so lonely she took home a larva and nursed it under her armpit. Her baby was white as a cloud, smoke, or snow. She taught the larva to talk in the evenings. She was proud, as it was growing to be the biggest larva in the village. Sometimes the mother became fired giving her child so much blood and needed a walk in the brisk air to revive her.

When the larva grew bigger than its mother, it begged to go out and see the other snow-huts and meet some neighbors. The mother allowed this, though like all mothers she worried about her child's safety. The villagers were afraid of the gigantic larva which resembled a dead spirit. The larva was kind and sang gentle songs, but, due to its appearance, it could not easily win affection.

One day when the mother was away, and the larva was home playing, a group of people stormed into the snow-hut where the woman lived, and threw her baby-larva to a pack of dogs. There was blood everywhere when the dogs were finished because even that many dogs couldn't eat so much blood.

* * *

The third mother's baby was nothing but air, except for the dust particles that were its eyes. Some thought she was making the whole baby thing, up, that because this mother wanted a baby so badly, she dreamt it. Her husband tolerated the baby made of air, but never paid it too much attention. When he wasn't away hunting, he liked to overeat then sleep as many as twelve hours in a row.

The mother sang her baby songs about the days when igloos could fly, when all air really was full of mystery. She blew hot breath onto the invisible baby's neck, as she would a piece of frozen fish so that her lips or tongue wouldn't stick when she ate.

Only once did this mother begin to scold her baby, and as she took a deep angry breath, she sucked the baby up. The baby's head went through its mother's nostril, like it was being born backwards. The mother snorted, hoping to push her baby back out. That's not my baby, she said, after each huff. That's not it either. The husband woke from one of his naps, hungry. He looked up with a start -- accusing, what happened to the baby?


A young couple adored their baby
who was enlanting and bubbly as babies go.
One day while they were out drying fish
in a nearby hut, a man came along and began singing.
This young couple loved to dance
as they were still newlyweds. They didn't
notice the singer's feet were a wolf's paws
tucked cleverly inside his snow shoes.
The wolf-man put the couple in a trance,
as his wolf-wife stole their fat brown baby.
The couple spent days following wolf tracks
after they'd found wolf hairs in the baby's bedding.
When they finally found the den,
they burst in with arrows. They successfully
killed the thieves without noticing their baby
hidden under the she-wolf. Their arrows
went right through the baby's heart.
The man and woman fought over whose fault it was
and never again danced in each other's arms.


Atungaq and his wife set out to travel around the world
with no idea how big the world really was.
Atungaq imagined it would take a year, at most, on foot.
They took their two children, a young girl and an infant.
Their first stop was the village of The Laced Ones, a jolly people
who held their garments together with caribou sinew.
They came upon The Dwarfs, then a village of Lopsided People,
each with only one hipbone, whose kayaks easily capsized.
It was not until they reached The Clawed Ones
that they ran into danger. Their older daughter
was stopped on her way to get firewood by a woman
whose nails were as big as the daws of a snowy owl.
The woman scratched the girl to death and ate her,
her poor heart bouncing on the floor,
trying to reach her father. Atungaq fled with his wife
and baby to the land of the Ones Who Make Mistakes.
Here their baby was taken away by a woman
who took a needle to his fontanel and sucked out
all his young blood. Atungaq and his wife fled again,
and made it home, heartbroken to have lost their children,
but bragging they'd survived the dangers of the world
when they'd only really survived the dangers of the pole.

Every Taboo Is Holy

If you eat intestines during your pregnancy, your child will turn into a worm.
Even though she knew this, this mother-to-be was craving reindeer
jejunum, duodenum, and ileum. And besides, there was not much else to eat.
She said her prayers, hoping for the best, forgetting her forbidden meal
in a few months, when she had no signs of ill health.
Her baby was big, her delivery anything but easy.
"Fly out like a sledge over smooth ice," coaxed the midwife
and the child finally emerged. The new mother obeyed all the other taboos.
She covered her head, and sat in the dark for eight days.
She rubbed every bite of food she wanted to eat
across the lips of her child first. Even so,
the child grew thinner and more transparent.
He played by making coils out of his own body.
His mother begged him to stop, to eat some meat,
but soon the worm-child slithered away, never to be seen again.

The Baby Who Was Almost a Baby

A gang of brothers wouldn't let their only sister marry.
They wanted her around to mend mukluks
and dry the fish they caught. The sister became pregnant
though she had no official husband
and feared what would happen if her brothers found out.
She took the baby outside of her before it was ready,
but not soon enough so that it would be nothing but blood.
The discarded infant paddled away in a boat he made
from the skull of the dog. He used a human arm bone for a paddle.
The sister never knew this, that her baby came to visit
and suck her breasts while she was sleeping.
One by one her brothers died mysterious deaths.
The baby used its powers -- he only wanted his mother back.
The sister consulted a shaman,
telling him that what she brought forth was no real baby,
but that maybe it had something to do with her dead brothers.
The baby finally heard the truth, and understood
he wasn't ready for this world. He was born a little while later
to another mother who had no selfish brothers.

The Starving Mother

It's hard for a starving mother to give birth,
and a miracle that this one did at all.
To have the energy to push, to have the strength
to keep her knees up and her legs in a vee.
There was nothing to feed her new baby --
no prospect of food for months,
the breathing holes for catching seals
all covered up by blizzards. The mother ate
her baby to keep herself alive.
The act was quick, stronger than an instinct.
We could not blame her
though we knew it was a mistake
that she did not go to the Land of the Dead
with her child. For then the childless mother
was paralyzed. Frozen in one position forever.
It was as though she had eaten her very own hand.

The Starving Baby

Chief Oohmehk decided to have a big feast
because this was the first time in a long time
a hunt had brought home so much food --
seals, belugas, ugruks, and caribous.
For three days, everyone danced and ate.
Everyone except one baby. His mother
was so busy making ice cream, feeding
her other children and her husband
and her widowed mother-in-law,
that when she fell asleep, her baby's stomach was empty.
During the night, the baby sucked
at his mother's breasts, first the right
then the left, the slit of his mouth growmg
until the tips of his lips reached his ears. In one instant,
he sprouted teeth sharper than a wolf's
and the milk wasn't enough.
He started eating his mother's breasts.
The baby's grandmother heard -- and then
the husband and the other children --
a slurping and crunching, an obscene chewing.
They saw the baby devouring his mother's neck,
her shoulders and her thighs. The father
and mother-in-law jumped through the skylight,
the other children not far behind.
Their screams woke the whole village,
and everyone fled, Chief Oohmehk
leaving his prized jade knife behind.
The baby, not satisfied with the mere flesh
of his mother, jumped after his people,
and in the spring of his hopping,
lost his diaper. His shrill cries
woke the people of his village
who escaped by crossing the lagoon
on logs. When the baby tried to cross after them
a brave young girl rolled the tree stump
under his step and, with a splash,
the baby disappeared. Just then
a head of beautiful black hair
rose to the surface. It was the lady
with the fish body. She told Chief Oohmehk
she would care for this hungry baby
but that no one could cross the water
back to the village. In time,
people forgot the horror and tried to go home
to fetch a lamp or a favorite rug. All were swallowed up
in the black muck of the water -- which was empty
and harmless, so it seemed, on the surface,
a soup stock without any meat.

The Magic Orphan

In the end it was hauling the snow that got to him.
This orphan lived with his grandparents
who bossed him around, in crankier and crankier tones
as they all grew older. Their igloo
was by the sea where the water was too salty to drink.
So the orphan had to lug soft snow from a faraway hill.
There were other chores, and, of course, the spankings.
There was his guilt of putting a strain on his grandparents.
And the rage -- his own parents gone.
He couldn't even remember them.
One day as his grandfather scolded the orphan
about something small, and the grandmother
ranted about a forgotten chore, the orphan
began to sing. It was a song he always knew
but hesitated to use. He ran to open the skylight
and tear the bearded seal guts from the window.
The orphan's magic song made snow, just as real and cold
as the one that fell from the sky. The faster his words
the stormier the weather. The igloo
was filling up like a bowl. The grandparents
couldn't move fast enough and were buried alive
by what they always wanted the most.

The One Who Suddenly Grew Big

It was a terrible time of starvation.
The village decided to migrate, leaving the weak ones behind.
One was a baby girl. Her mother cried,
leaving her wrapped up in her own parka.
When the village people found food, they returned to feed
their abandoned relatives. The mother longed
to see her baby alive in the warm jacket fleece,
but tried not to have high hopes. So she was
shocked to see her baby, still toothless
and whining, bound out of the snow hut,
bigger than a giant. The mother's parka was a small scarf
around the giant baby's neck. The giant baby
was so strong she could walk bare oot
in the snow, her naked skin unchafed by the wind.
The mother screamed. The whole village
ran away, this giant baby
running after them, drooling icicles.
When the baby grew tired, she began to crawl.
Those of the village moved so fast
that when they looked behind them
the giant baby was just a dot.

The Spirit of the Trash

Every once in a while you'll see him:
the spirit full of tattoos. You'll know it is him
because of the vulva on his chin.
His cheeks are two big breasts, nipples
like pimples. Two little legs stick out of his neck.
Sometimes he appears in the trash
because he doesn't want the hungry to get even the scraps.

A Daughter and a Dog With the Same Name

Daughters can move to faraway villages.
When this happens, sometimes mothers cry
and lose weight. Sometimes their faces turn gray
and they sew more slowly. An old woman
who missed her daughter had a solution.
She named her dog the same name as her daughter.
When she fed him she pretended
she was feeding her child. When she called her dog,
she called the girl, until sure enough
the daughter heard her through the miles
that separated them and came to visit.


He didn't live anywhere near his settlement,
his tiny igloo too small to stand up in,
impossible to lie down. Tiligvak
was a simple man with extraordinary powers.
During a bad winter he summoned
a seal from the floor of the central snow hut.
The seals had loved him ever since his first catch
when he took off both his inner and outer jacket
and rubbed his skin against the mammal's with love.
The people of the village praised Tiligvak
though they often gossiped about his strange hermit ways.
At least until the day he fed his whole settlement
with a bite of meat, a few tongues,
and a small helping of marrow.
He put the scraps on his magic seal skin plate
and sang a song until the meat overflowed.
Not even this bunch of his hungry neighbors
could finish such a feast, Tifigvak's magic plate
a piece of seal skin his people had foolishly thrown away.

The Putting Away of Dolls

This is what they called the day
her first blood came, the day she was too old
for her long slender doll made of reindeer bone.
It had taken a long time for her to learn
how to sew seal intestines without tearing them,
how to guide the ulu
so no part of an animal's hide was wasted.
She'd given her bone doll a wolverine ruff
because breath would not freeze
on that kind of fur. Though her father
carved her a doll with no arms,
she'd made parka sleeves from the seamless skin
of a ground squirrel's front legs.
She'd crimped the doll's moccasins with her teeth,
double checked each stitch to make sure
no wind or ice could pass through it.
An ill-sewn garment could mean death.
An ill-made marriage could mean unhappiness.
Her dolls' outfits were perfect as her mother
packed them away. The sticky blood,
slow and strange between her legs. She grew
dizzy as her family began to talk
of husbands and babies. She was an animal
strung upside-down, drained before drying.
Her hands never to touch skins that small again.

Terror in the Entrance Way

The Raping of the Sun

The dance house went dark
when a wind blew out all the lamps.
The singing continued in the blackness
while a boy raped a young girl.
He ran away just before the lamps
were re-lit, and the girl, crying,
made her way home on the crunchy snow.
She was a girl who loved to dance
and didn't want this pleasure taken from her,
so the next night she returned to the dance house
with soot on her hands, so that if this violence
happened again, she'd dirty
her attacker's back. After the second time --
the terrifying darkness, the pain, the rekindle --
the girl saw tier palm prints on her brother's parka.
She cried, "Such things are unheard of!"
Her body still felt the ache of his presence
as she took a sharp knife and cut off both her breasts.
She flung them into his hands, screaming,
"You seem to have a taste for my body -- Eat these!"
He held her bleeding breasts, in shock.
She grabbed a torch and fled the dance house.
No one is sure if the brother meant to apologize
or simply attack his sister again, when he followed,
stumbling and falling, snow putting out the flames
of his torch so that only its embers flickered.
A wind, more colossal than the one that disturbed
the dance hall lamps, lifted the man
and his breastless sister up high into the sky.
The girl became the sun who does all she can
to alleviate the dangers of the dark.
She stays as far away as possible
from her brother, the cold dim moon.

Terror in the Entrance Way

There was a woman who refused to marry.
She lived with her parents, who always told suitors
the decision to wed belonged to their daughter.
One day in winter an old shaman sought her.
She refused his proposal with a loud
"Naami, no!" He blamed her rejection
on his sagging skin and white beard.
This usually kind man took his revenge.
The shaman used his magic
to follow the girl everywhere.
He would stand in the entrance passage
of each igloo she visited.
To get away from him, she ran
from one hut to another, but he always beat her
to her destination. He said nothing,
just smiled, not a nice smile,
but a prideful one that showed his satisfaction
of winning. After many days of this,
the girl began to stay home,
the whiteness all around leaving her
no place to hide. Although the shaman
could do anything -- like make himself young and handsome --
he chose to age the girl in her sleep.
One night, all her front teeth
fell out on her pillow, her hair turned gray,
and the whites of her eyes yellowed.
The parents wept for their daughter, the crone-virgin,
and hoped she wouldn't die
before them. For several days, the shaman let the girl live
as an old woman, knowing aching joints
and palsied hands. When he finally came to her igloo
she couldn't even stand.
The girl who was an old woman
sat at the edge of her cot
as the shaman caused a seal to pass through her.
The slippery mammal tickled her vagina
without the usual pain of birth.
Her hair slowly turned back to black
and the flesh that hung in every direction
tightened once again to her bones.
"Well?" said the shaman. The young girl yelped
as her teeth returned through her gums all at once.
She followed the shaman out of the hut,
her powerless parents holding each other.
The wedding was little more than a rape, an intrusion
through the most delicate passage way.
The young girl said, "For some, there is no freedom."

Four Wives

This murderer of wives thought he had an excuse.
On the day he was born, his father was killed
by a group of evil spirits who drilled holes in his knees
and sucked out all his juices. This murderer's mother
vowed to make her son strong, pulling on his knuckles.
The boy grew up triple-speed, rowing a kayak at two.
At three, he killed his first seal. Soon he was hitting his head
against the wall of his igloo because he needed a wife.
When his mother told him he was still a child,
the boy cried out that he was a man, too.
The mother could not stand to see her son suffer
so they began a journey to find a suitable woman.
First, they tried the village of the Dog-Heads.
This son was desperate. He picked a woman
with not a bad-looking body. Their first night together
this Dog-Headed woman tried to eat the boy's genitals.
He killed her, and told his mother they would have to search further.
In the next village, all the woman were taken but one
and she had fingernails longer than a harpoon.
Their first night in bed, she scraped the boy's back
bragging that in this way she had made skeletons
out of many men. Afraid for his fife, the boy killed her, too.
The murderer's mother was too old and feeble to continue.
She walked off a cliff, leaving the boy on his own.
The third wife came from a village where women were abundant.
She had blue-black hair and could clean a seal.
Her hands were nice and fat.
This seemed to be the love of the murderer's life
until he realized she was barren. Fed up, he threw her
into the sea. The rest of the village was furious.
For this was not a place where killing women was acceptable.
As punishment, the murderer had to marry
a woman no one else would take.
She never said a word. She knew nothing of mending
sealskin boots. Her eyes were covered by a dull glaze.
She didn't have any stories to tell.
The murderer finally repented, crying on the graves
of his former wives, stretching the knuckles
on his enormous hands. He was still young,
with many more years to live.

The Man Who Got His Drink of Water in the End

There was a husband who was more than a little ill-tempered.
Though he didn't beat his wife, he tended
to be too demanding for her tastes. Besides that,
he wasn't a very good hunter. The wife watched
as the other men in her neighborhood dragged home
yummy seals. She waited for her husband
who inevitably arrived empty-handed.
He always walked into the igloo without a hello,
wanting her to get him a drink of water.
She said she wouldn't give him a sip
until he brought home some meat.
She was tired of taking handouts from the other hunters.
She said things that she shouldn't have said,
things that made him feel less of a man.
One night after one of their fights, when she still
refused to quench her husband's thirst,
he said, "I'm fed up! No water? No husband."
He walked out of the hut, vowing to never come back.
On his walk the hunter with bad luck
came upon a house where three magical bears lived.
He told them his troubles, his head in their furry laps.
He stayed among the bears, learning their secrets,
until he missed his wife. Not one for fancy apologies,
he walked through the igloo door saying,
"Am I thirsty! How about a drink?"
His wife thought at first it was some kind of joke.
But when she didn't see her husband smile,
she said, "Still no seal? Then no water!"
The husband stared at the bearskin on the sleeping cot
sending messages to the bears, just as they'd taught him.
The loud paws of large bears could be heard
circling the hut. A furry foot crashed through
the ice-window of their igloo. "Here is your water,"
cooed the wife, calling her husband darling
for the first time in a very long while.

The Great Liar

This liar would do anything to get out of hunting,
even trample his kayak, and put ice in his clothes,
then hammer his own testicles with a stone.
This is the trouble a liar will go to
when he wants his wife to believe he's been victim of an iceberg.

This liar would do anything to get out of hunting.
When he heard of a child's death, he went to her parents to say
he had a daughter by the same name. The grieving parents
wanted their daughter's soul to go into the liar's child's
so they gave him food and her pearls, a cooking pot.

The liar was rich until the mourning family learned
the liar had no child at all. They demanded he give the food back.
They demanded he apologize to the spirit of their dead daughter.
The liar couldn't sleep at night, the lies in his head
crawling over one another like so many lice.

His wife was ashamed. His friend had had enough of him
when he claimed he caught a whale that turned out to be a stone.
He led one faulty expedition after another.
Any number of people could have been the one who killed him,
down beyond the cliff where that dead whale should have been.

The Lazy Turnit

There once was a man so lazy
he swallowed his bites of food almost whole
rather than take the extra energy to chew.
When he saw a blurry commotion
through the ice-window of his snow-hut,
he guessed at what was happening
rather than rise from his cot
to get a better look. He was happiest
sleeping, drips of spittle freezing
in the comers of his lips.
He resented any kind of work.
His job was to go out to the land
to scare the caribou, chase them
towards the crossing place
where his fellow hunters waited
with their kayaks. This was
a hard enough job for a peppy Turnit,
but for the lazy Turnit
it was near impossible. Instead
he spent his days resting in the snow,
alert at first, afraid that he would be caught,
then dozing when he closed his eyes to the sun.
To satisfy his wife, the lazy man
situated himself by a large stone.
While he was still lying down
he rested his feet against the rock
and rubbed them back and forth.
He often gave his shoes to his wife to re-sole
until she ran out of caribou skins.
It had been a long time since the hunters
had a catch, but the wife didn't complain
because, from the looks of his shabby shoes,
the husband had tried so hard.
When his fellow hunters got hungry enough,
they decided to spy on their lazy friend.
Sure enough, they found him lying down,
shuffling in place on the stone.
They watched the lazy man who had learned
to walk and walk, to save time, in his sleep.
They watched him walk to nowhere all day,
then limp home, hoping for something to eat.

The Raven Who Liked to Dine on Eyes

This raven, when he looked into the eyes of humans,
felt a grumble in his stomach as big as an avalanche.
He would start to salivate, the tender brown eyes
of men and women, girls and boys, moist and succulent
as the wettest of grasses. It was hard to catch the eyes
of live humans, with their lids shutting
like igloos, their arms flailing, throwing off his pecking.
So this ravenous raven devised a plan.
He told the pretty-eyed people of a large settlement
to come down near the sea to greet a group of guests.
The lonely people were excited and started
in the direction the raven advised.
As soon as the humans were under a summit,
the raven began to dance on the enormous overhang of snow,
which broke off in chunks bigger than snow huts.
The whole settlement was buried in a matter of seconds.
The raven had to wait until spring. To him, the melting snow
was as beautiful as a slow-cooking fire.
When it was warm, he emptied the human's eye sockets,
his beak delicately spooning egg yolks from egg cups.


She wasn't a giant. And no, her vagina
didn't have teeth. Instead it was like a hollow snake
able to swallow whole big things.
This woman's vagina didn't lead, like others,
to a womb. Instead its slippery path
pulled men like metal right to her magnet stomach.
There, the men churned with blubber and seal meat
she'd recently eaten. Other women looked for the remnants
of their missing husbands in the shit
of Her-Whose-Vagina-Ate-Men. Sometimes,
a gold tooth, an unmistakable button.
Widows didn't cry much. They knew
a stray husband was worth less than a dog --
which wives could at least have for supper
if they grew hungry enough.

Sedna, The Sea Goddess

Petrel was altricial,
born helpless, with closed eyes.
He lived high on the cliffs
where he was safe. The Kittiwakes
and Razorbills built their nests
halfway up or on the ground.
With thick coats of natal down,
they were getting their own food
before Petrel could even fly.

In a snow-hut near by,
Sedna stood, her head in the tropics,
her waist in a temperate zone.
Her feet were cold. Such was the nature
of the igloo in which she lived -- animal skins
lining the walls, the nostril hole
in the roof, letting out bad air.
Sedna was proud, refusing the suitors
who came to court her.

After Petrel had been a long time pampered,
he turned himself into a man,
knowing no mere bird was a worthy wife.
He wore a handsome parka
and spectacles made from walrus tusks
to disguise his beady eyes,
the only part of him that didn't easily transform.
He was able to coax Sedna away from her home
with his songs, his voice still sweet as a bird's.

Sedna was happy until Petrel's glasses fell off,
and the trance was broken.
She looked at the nest in which she'd been living
and shrieked. She jumped into her father's boat
that had long been searching for her.
Petrel swooped down towards the sea,
flapping his wings, making waves.
Sedna's fathers and brothers pushed her
from the boat, afraid of the powerful spirits.

Blue with cold, Sedna came to the surface,
grabbing at the side of the kayak, her fingers
turning to ice. Her brothers
hit at her hands with a paddle.
Her fingertips broke off
and turned into sea lions. Sedna. tried once more
to save her life -- her second joints split away
and became ground seals. The next time
her third joints became walruses

and her thumbs sprang into whales.
A great wave drowned Sedna's family.
Petrel's cry woke the Kittiwakes
and Razorbills. Sedna became a powerful spirit --
living as low as Petrel did high -- sending winds
and wrecking kayaks. When she is happy
she leads seals to hunters. Without fingers,
she can no longer plait her own braids,
each as thick as an arm.

A Woman's Story Comes to Life

This woman had no children but she had a unipkaaq
a story better than a pop-up book, better than a spell.
She'd never told her husband since everyone knows
you can never trust a man to keep a secret.
One long night her husband begged for a story
as though he were the baby she'd never had.
She had told all the stories she could,
the ones that didn't move lamps or stir up spirits.
Her husband grew bored, saying: not that one, not that one
again. Finally, the woman said she would tell of her magic
if he promised not to tell the men in the qa1gi.
It was dangerous for a woman whose powers were known
because the men who were visionaries outnumbered her.
The woman sat in the middle of their igloo
stirring her hand sun-wise, until her husband
heard splashing water, until her husband
saw water rising on their floor, and finally
a whale. The wife asked for reassurance
from her husband who was shaking. He promised
not to tell as they ate pieces of whale skin
and blubber. The next day the man went to work
with a piece of whale meat in his cheek.
He was chewing silently when his friends noticed
he was eating something freshly caught.
Through a series of badgering questions, the man confessed.
His friends demanded he bring his wife to the qa1gi.
The exposed woman had no choice:
the next day she repeated her story
while she directed her husband to stay up by the igloo's skylight.
The stirring, the water, and finally the whale.
But this time the woman didn't end her story
until her husband pulled her through the nose of the igloo
and the qa1gi was flooded, all the men drowned.
Shamans north and south of Tikigaq began to visit
in the form of duck's down or caribou hair.
As they filtered in through her igloo's nose,
she always recognized them,
transformed them back into their real selves,
and chopped off their heads. When enough
of the neighboring shamans were dead, war parties
came into Tikiga Th woman felt sad
about the death at secrets can cause, and she didn't have time
to blame her husband. Instead, as the warriors
approached the village, she stretched out her arms in front of her
and rubbed the white undersides against each other
until they were raw. The earth opened
and the warriors went toppling in,
never to bother Tikigaq again.

The Grandmother's Revenge

She was her only granddaughter -- tall, beautiful, big
for her age. On her way home one night,
the granddaughter was dragged into the men's recreation hut
where each of the boys inside used her.
She crawled home all bloody.
The grandmother plotted her revenge.
When at last the girl slept, the grandmother returned to the hut
with her magic. She crawled like her granddaughter
and put her fingers in her mouth. The bare-chested boys laughed --
they were hot after all that raping. But the grandmother
put the boys in a trance so that they began following her,
out of the hut and, on all fours, into the snow.
She took them by the river where ice formed in their hair.
She took them by a rarely used trail where their arms turned blue.
Most died on the way to the mountain. When all the boys were frozen
the grandmother ran home to her granddaughter.
The girl rested and woke up feeling safe --
her dream of huge evil babies chilled forever into place.

The Woman With Two Vaginas

My Grandmother Is My Husband

I was left alone with only grandmother,
as the youngest and oldest of our village, prohibited
from the narwhal hunt. No one came back
for years, not mother nor father, not the girls nor boys
who I imagine would by now kiss my cheeks
with snowballs, if they were still here.
Luckily for me, my grandmother was magic.
With a few words and a trance, she could turn herself
into a man. Her seal-bone penis
was always full of pleasure, her blubber-balls
were always warm. And being a man, she was able
to get food without as much danger. Her vagina
transformed into a mighty sled. She created
a team of dogs from her own lice. I spent my days
hidden in the hut, sewing animal skins and singing.
Grandmother always returned by evening,
sometimes with a ptarmigan, his dead feathered feet
stiff in the cold. I learned how to cook
all kinds of soup. This went on for many days of dark
and light, many years and changes in my body.
Sometimes I feared my handsome grandmother's death
and wondered if I'd be able to hunt for myself.
How could I sleep without her curled into me?
It came to pass that I would have other worries.
One day when I was alone a man came to our house.
His penis was real skin and blood. He showed me
his wrinkled testicles with pride. He wanted to know
whose harpoon stood in the corner. Whose kayak
leaned against the wall. Whose child filled my belly.
I told him they all belonged to my grandmother,
my husband. I kicked as he threw me over his shoulder,
promising he would make me a happier wife.
Grandmother returned that evening as usual,
a walrus roped onto her sled. She cried out my name
over and over, looking for boiling water, some proof
that I was coming back. She saw no point
in hunting or eating anything else. She saw no point
in being a man any more. She undid
her magic spell -- man or woman, it's all the same
when a person dies alone.

Old Age

She once had a cushioned womb,
a zestful kitchen, necklaces that dangled
feathers and beads. Her daughter
was just a baby then, crying for milk,
not the only one left to take care of her mother.

The old woman was blind now
and crippled, often ill-tempered.
The daughter would have preferred
to wait on a husband or children
so one day when the mother asked for water

the fed-up girl handed her a bowl of urine.
The old woman drank, pretending
she did not know the difference. Her daughter
did not have a pretty smile or eyes
that sparkled. The mother who pitied her child

said, "Which would you prefer as a lover, a louse
or a sea scorpion?" The daughter no man would have
chose the creature from the ocean,
fearing she'd roll over and crush
a tiny louse-husband in her sleep.

The old woman knew she had lived too long
and began pulling sea scorpions, one
after the other, from her vagina,
until her daughter was surrounded by suitors,
until the old woman fell over dead.

The Woman Who Was Kind To Insects

This old woman was left behind
because she didn't even have the strength
to sit in her comer and chew hides for boots.

When it was time for her village to move,
her family said goodbye, giving her only a few insects to eat.
The old woman accepted her death, thinking,

I'm not going to eat these creatures. I am old
and perhaps they are young. Perhaps
some of these lice are even children.

When she hadn't eaten for a few days
a fox slunk into her igloo. She prepared herself
for the Land of the Dead as the fox bared his teeth.

But instead of eating the old woman,
he simply bit off her clothes, then her skin --
so gently she didn't even feel it.

Her old skin lay around her ankles like a pair of trousers
and when she looked down her new skin was firm,
like that of a young woman.

The insects, used to being eaten by humans
who didn't think twice about it,
had asked their fox friend to lend his magic.

When the family returned next summer,
they looked everywhere for the woman's bones --
under piles of rocks, in her favorite cave.

They didn't know she'd gone off to five with the insects.
It is said she married a handsome blow-fly
who stayed by her side, forever faithful.

The Woman With Two Vaginas

The woman with two vaginas tried her best
to hide them from her husband. It was difficult
because her vaginas weren't in the usual place

but in the palms of her hands. To distract her husband,
she tickled his penis with her nipple,
or she took him into her backside.

She had traveled far, from a place she preferred
not to talk about, and her husband assumed
she learned her sexual practices there. He was happy

until he discovered his wife
pissing through her fingers, as though she were trying
to cup running water. He wished

that he didn't know what he then knew --
that his sexy young wife was also a ghost.
This was no time for sentimental lust --

a ghost can only bring loneliness to a snow hut.
So he strapped his wife into his kayak
and deposited her on an ice-floe far from home.

He told her to go back to the Land of the Dead,
but she was trapped like a moving shadow
that was neither here nor there. Some say

they still hear her sobbing: "My husband
will not have me! My husband will not have me!"
But she has no way of knowing how he misses her

twin vaginas, how he tries his best to
hide it from his new wife -- yet the village is small,
the gossip as fast as wind during a storm.

It's said he makes his new wife slap his face,
to feel the warm tingle of her fingers,
that he then cries out into her barren palms.

The Girl Who Came Back To Life

The father was more than surprised to see his dead daughter
looking for fish on the drying rack. "Where have you been?"
he asked, sneaking up on her and grabbing her by the waist.
I have been in a beautiful place, a long way off,"
she said, telling her father she had to go back.
He pleaded with her and called to his wife.
The parents cried until their dead daughter consented to stay.
This ghost of a daughter only meant to find the fish
she left behind, then leave. She was unhappy
in the snow hut, lonesome for where she had been.
Sometimes her parents saw right through her
and to the wall. Their daughter sulked, faded in and out.
The mother and father bought her to the potlach,
proud to have their daughter back. People snubbed the girl,
afraid, remembering her funeral. Someone
introduced her to the five-year-old who had taken her name.
Their shared soul split as the child let out a mighty scream.
The dead girl disappeared, a raindrop in soft snow.

The Boy Who Longed To Be a Ghost

This poor boy lost his mother to the powerful tides,
and then his father. His sister took care of him for a while,
but she soon drowned, too. Left alone
this boy had little strength in his legs or his loins.
He was forbidden from the hunts.
Women mocked him. Children giggled
behind his back. His only friends were the ghosts
who came to visit when all the others were away.
They wrestled and told stories, and included
the frail boy in their fun. His dead sister was the ghost
who gave the boy a choice: Tell nothing about our visits
and you will grow stronger. Tell about us
and you will lose the little vigor you have.

The boy chose to tell about the ghosts
and the villagers laughed at his expense.
With each detail of his story, the boy grew weaker,
until he was ready to be taken by the ghosts themselves.
In the Land of the Dead he became a beautiful woman,
one of the ghosts who didn't bother traveling back to earth to help.

Single Mother

She found his dead wives buried in the back. So this was the man
who destroyed everything he loved. He was her second husband,
her first so jealous that he locked her in the igloo, with a circle of sticks
around her so she couldn't move. She wasn't sure what to do --
her son was constantly crying for food. She was a long way from home.
At night she watched her second husband shave wood with his flint
Until now she was able to avoid his touch, so as not to end up like
his former wives. His penis-blade glistened as her second husband came
near her, his eyes swollen with tears. She smiled and coaxed him to their
cot, then using all her strength shoved him high into the air.
The flint point of his penis stuck into the very same wooden bed frame
it had made. The woman, both lucky and not, strapped her baby onto her
back and ran towards home, through days of darkness. Magic women
blew their breath into the baby's mouth so she didn't have to
carry him anymore -- fast and strong, he could run by her side.

My Mother Stole My Wife

I couldn't believe what I saw.
My big hooded seal, dead on the snow,
enough food to let me stay home for a while.
I snuck to the back of the hut to surprise my pretty wife
who hadn't seen me for days. I saw instead my mother
with her shirt open, moving her breasts up and down.
She was singing, "Sleep with me, my dear little wife."
The women I loved giggled together. My wife
was the female, my mother the man,
with a sealbone penis strapped to her waist.
I had to punish my mother. I struck her so hard
that I killed her. I urged my wife
to come with me and leave our hut, that my mother
had placed a curse on it. My mother
was as dead as the seal I killed, blood spurting
from her lip, the snow pink beneath her.
My wife was in shock, crying,
"You killed my dear husband."
She wouldn't look at me for days.
She wouldn't eat the seal meat.
She wouldn't stop her crying.

The Virtues of Little Husbands

In a village where all the men were killed,
the women had no choice
but to take their sons as husbands.
As one mother strapped her newborn boy
onto her back, he immediately grew into a man.
He remained the size of an infant
but had a stubbly chin and wise eyes.
The woman carried him everywhere,
over shallow streams where the water reaching
over her ankles could easily wet his groin.
She had to hold him while he peed,
like a miniature airplane, over the ground.
He was so light her back never tired,
even though along with him she carried
a supply of his arrows. The little husband
was a wonderful hunter, able to sneak up
on resting reindeer, his weight so slight
he left no footprints. The woman rarely missed
conventional sex, her little husband
crawling over all over her body
as though she were one giant breast.

The Big Woman

When the big woman first came to the village, everyone thought
she was a man. She went out on the hunts and bossed
the rest of the party around. She could snap a live caribou's neck
with her bare hands. Only one woman was nice to her.
She gave her chunks of the meat she dried.
She went to visit the big woman who lived alone in her igloo.
The big woman never said thank you, only grunted
when the other woman brought her a new parka.
One night the big woman snuck into the kind woman's hut
and crawled under the blankets right between her and her husband.
"I need a man," she said. The wife tried not to get mad,
but eventually elbowed the big woman out of the bed
before the husband woke up. The next day the big woman
wanted to fight. The kind woman who had little experience
had no choice. The two women wrestled near a cliff.
The big woman threw the smaller one into the air.
There she met a bird spirit who would help her.
The little woman landed back on earth with a thud.
She felt a surge of power in her arms,
then tossed the big woman into the ocean
where her heaviness was no longer a problem where she
lived as a whale who bebopped about and swam in peace.
So even when she thought she was being mean to her big friend,
the kind woman was still being kind.


So strong was Sermerssuaq
she could lift a kayak
on the tip of three fingers, kill
a seal with her fists, rip a fox apart
with bare teeth, beat the men
at arm-wrestling. Sermerssuaq
liked to show off
her purple clitoris --
which grew so big when she was excited --
a hare's pelt
could barely
cover it.

The Two Women Who Found Freedom

He slept in the middle of the igloo,
near the lamp, while each one of his two wives
shivered near the wall. It wasn't fair --
the way he thrashed them when they giggled.
The way he thrashed any man who paid either wife
a compliment. The angry husband killed a villager
when it was rumored he had slept
with one of the wives. The two women
made a pact to flee their husband
and hiked to the coast in special mukluks
they'd sewn for the trip. They made their new home
inside the carcass of a whale who'd washed up
on the beach. They crawled through his mouth,
careful not to rip their shoes on his teeth,
and rested against the walls of his belly.
The whale's meat lasted them forever,
his rotten insides as tasty as potent cheese.
The husband consulted a shaman,
who led him right towards the whale.
But the husband feared the awful smell
and returned to beat the shaman,
rather than the wives
who now slept in the warmth
of each other, in the yellow glow
of a blubber lamp they shared.

The Half-People

How Mist Came To Be

A giant woman ran in pursuit of a human man
after he'd killed her husband with a giant ax.
The human, not knowing what else to do,
thrust the giant ax through the snow
hoping to split the world in half --
his side for humans, the other for giants.
He thrust with all his might
but could not get his wish.
All he managed to gouge out was a lake,
which the thirsty giantess began to sip.
The human encouraged her to drink more,
taunted her by saying she'd have to finish the whole lake
if she ever wanted to get to the other shore
to kill him. The giantess drank to her fill,
her bloated stomach extended like a full moon.
The human laughed, reminded her how tasty
his flesh would be on her tongue. She had been out for wood
just so she could roast him, her husband
capturing the human earlier in the day. Dead husband or not,
wasn't she still hungry? The giantess grew dizzy,
all that water ruining her equilibrium.
She lumbered towards the human,
lake water now only up to her hefty shins.
Then suddenly, without warning, she burst,
her insides flooding the landscape with mist.
The human sat in the fog, waiting for it to dear.
From then on, on certain mornings, fog would appear.

How Mosquitoes Came To Be

There once was a giant who loved to eat humans,
especially their hearts. The people ate nothing
but what they caught from the sea, and thought
this giant was lazy, roaming the snow
for such small food. After too many were killed,
and the people feared soon none of them would be left,
one smart man devised a way to murder the beast.
He played dead on the giant's trail, and the giant
tossed him over his shoulder, humming in anticipation
of a good meal. The man let his head and arms drop,
careful not to say ouch when he repeatedly bumped
against the giant's back. He was tossed on the floor
of the giant's hut, while the monster left
to get firewood to roast him. The monster's son,
smaller by comparison, came in. The man
held the giant's heavy skinning knife to the son's throat,
saying, "Quick, tell me. Where is your father's heart?"
The anatomy of any giant is tricky -- brains sometimes
in the belly, a stomach in an inner ear. "My father's heart
is in his left heel," confessed the giant's son, whose own heart
may have been in his upper arm. When the giant
bounded through the door, the man was quick to stab him
in his foot. The giant let out a thunderous cry,
then fell over. He said, "Though I am dead,
I'm going to keep on eating you and all other humans forever!"
The man cut the giant's body into pieces and tossed them, one
by one, into a fire he made with the wood
the giant had gathered. When the man threw the ashes
into the wind, each fleck transformed into a mosquito.
From the middle of a buzzing cloud, the man could hear
the giant's voice, "I'll eat your people until the end of time."
The man felt a sting, then another, as though his whole body
was a huge lip being pierced with women's jewelry, with labrets.

The Invisible Men

These tribes of men were never seen,
except for their footprints and shadows,
except for their snow huts and weapons.
Seeing that there were no invisible women,
these imperceptible men courted humans.
Invisible men were said to be among the most handsome,
but women could not be sure who they married
until the unseen spouses died
and then their faces became apparent.
One human woman was so curious,
she often stared into her invisible husband's shadow
trying to guess the shape of his chin.
When she held his body against hers at night,
she memorized his outline. She tried to fill
everything else in the next day when he was out hunting.
She imagined the shapes of his hot breath in cold air
were keys to the details of chest.
She noticed the nuances of skin color among the villagers
and tried to approximate his. When they kissed,
she paid tribute to his invisible nose's width.
One day when she could stand it no longer
she stabbed a knife into the space
where her husband was sleeping.
His feet appeared first, then his legs,
his torso, his arms, and finally his face
which was more angelic than any wife
could have imagined. Outside the hut
bows were seen moving through the air
as the other invisible men craved revenge.
Because of their code of honor, invisible men
could not aim arrows at those who could not see them.
So instead they wailed along with the wife,
voices even more invisible than usual,
sobbing their disembodied grief.

The Hollow Men

The land of Island Ice was forbidden,
yet three men journeyed there to hunt reindeer.
So plentiful were the animals, these men
built a little igloo and decided to stay for a visit.
As they were sleeping the old spirit
Aukjuk, the stealer of entrails,
passed directly through their temporary ice wall.
Dish in hand, she walked up to the first man
and sucked out his entrails without waking him.
She emptied the second and third hunter
and left carrying her laden dish.
The men were so light now, they rose to the sky
and stopped at the moon. Even the powerful Moon Man
was no match for Aukjuk. He sent the hollow men
back to earth, to their wives
who had to tie their husbands
to their sleeping cots
so they wouldn't float away.

The Half-People

A man can wander out by himself,
far away from the others and, if he has
enough room, grow into a giant.
Dwarfs live in crowded places
making tools so small human hands fumble
when they try to use them.
Then there are the half-people,
those with whole heads and whole genitals,
but with only one leg and one arm.
They hop around, longing for the twins
of themselves. They hop around like stripes
peeled from the hides of majestic animals.

Mighty Mouse

Back then, there was a mouse so big
that when he stretched his morning stretch
he was sure he touched the sky. It was soft and cool
under his paws, not scratchy like his nest.
He nibbled on his frozen fish and wished
himself a better life. He wanted fame
more than any other mouse.
He constantly tried to prove himself.
He swam the biggest lake, which took a whole day.
But the other mice only laughed, pointing out
the lake was a mere sloshy human footprint.
It took him weeks to move a mountain
that turned out to be just a rock
that was only a few times larger than a pebble.
Back then, mice as well as people said
the sky was held up by a pole, like a table leg
or an umbrella handle. The mouse thought
he could shake things up,
become the greatest mouse,
by cutting down the pole and letting the sky drop
on Kotzebue. Everyone would have to
notice him then. So he chewed and chewed
at the pole until his whiskers turned gray
and his belly hung into the snow
and finally one day the pole started to sway.
The mouse pushed it and ran
in the opposite direction. He lifted his paws
over his head, ready for toppling clouds
and stars. But nothing happened.
On the ground all he saw was a leaf.
He scampered along the length of the pole
and found it nothing but a tree.
So no one ever thought this mouse the greatest.
He died in his sleep, obscure and nameless.

The Murdered Shaman Gets His Revenge

The shaman was not only murdered, but humiliated.
Alluk cut off the tips of the shaman's fingers
and took out his bladder and pitt it over his head like a cap.
This happened on the mainland, before Alluk fled to King Island
where he dressed like a woman, hiding from the shaman's friends.
The shaman's spirit couldn't rest, with the thought of Alluk's spears
right through him. The shaman tried to stay alive
as long as possible and even had a pipe, the smoke coming out
of his stab wounds. But soon even the shaman had to give in to death,
though he did not travel all the way to that other world.
Instead, he hovered above land until he found Alluk
on King Island. His neighbors had not known his identity,
knew nothing about his murdering a shaman. So they were surprised
when they found Alluk tied up in a ball
with stiff dry ropes no one could untangle.
Alluk wept and called for his mother and father,
anyone who could help him. And the shaman
had his revenge -- Alluk curled up like a child in his death womb.

The Glutton

The glutton loved to eat so much
that his huge belly was becoming a hindrance.
He tried to tighten it with thongs
so it wouldn't drag behind him,
but the belly fat always found a way to pop out.
He tried to stick his stomach in a hole in the ground.
He tried to pack it in a snow drift before he left for a hunt.
The smart belly always followed him,
an embarrassment. It was time for magic.
He commanded a mountain to be his new belly.
He walked away unencumbered, proud
that he had the biggest detachable stomach of all
where he could store all that more food.
Maybe the mountain started to feel resentful.
Maybe it was a coincidence, an act of nature
that, one day on his way to see how his stomach was doing,
the glutton was killed by an avalanche.

The Boy Who Carried Home Fish In His Stomach

The boy was eager to become a man,
to please his grandmother who raised him.
One day when the sea was calm,
she asked him to walk along the beach
to see if he was able to catch any fish.
The boy walked in the wavelets, spotting
first a tomcod. He grabbed it with two hands
as the slippery fish danced in the air.
The boy panicked -- he hadn't a sack
in which to carry the fish. The tomcod
didn't look as if it would stop wiggling
any time soon. The resourceful boy
made a decision, to swallow the fish
whole and carry it home in his belly.
He picked up a trout, a humpback,
a whitefish and two salmon.
Each left a ring of taste on the back of his throat.
His belly began to bloat. Then he caught sight of a seal.
He pulled off its whiskers before he swallowed.
Then a beluga, a baby whale.
Suddenly the boy's stomach was too big for walking.
First, he tried lifting his gut and throwing it over his shoulder
like a sack But soon his weight grew unbearable,
especially after he stopped at a pond for a drink.
The fish jerked back and forth, giving him cramps.
The only way to go back was to follow the shoreline
where his belly could float and bob in the sea.
When he returned to his igloo he had grown too big
to enter through the window or skylight.
His grandmother used her magic
to get him through a door. She sat him by the fire
where a flying spark landed on his stomach.
His skin was stretched so thin that this fiery ember burned right through
and all the swallowed fish flew up and out with a gurgle.
The grandmother laughed and thanked the gods,
food for a whole winter swimming around her ankles.

Shooting Stars

Everyone knows shooting stars shoot nothing but shit.
Yet Namik lacked all wisdom.
He didn't wait for the star shower to stop
before he began his hunt. The stars' droppings
were like those of birds, except for their power --
The star shit turned Namik into grayish lichen forever.

The First White Men

When igloos were alive
and spun through the air,
and snow burned in lamps
because it could burn then,
there was one more Eskimo word
for snow. Snow in the air,
drifting snow, snow on the ground,
watery snow, newly fallen,
drifted into house, suitable
for building a house, crusty,
hard, soft... There was a word then
for snow that could burn.
In this world of magic
there was a girl who refused to marry --
her suitors good hunters, but dull.
Her exasperated father finally married her
to one of their dogs, and together
they had ten children: two Eskimos;
two dogs; two dogs
with human heads; and four
white boys. The white boys
were warlike, biting her nipples
as they nursed, crying through
the night. The girl put her white children
into the sole of a boot and set it adrift
on the sea. The children were men
by the time they reached white men's land
where they settled down and produced
all the white men now in the world.

White Men, White Food

White men aren't really white,
if you consider snow as being white
and the food in the sacks the white men hauled
as being white. In Kivalina, white men
abandoned a schooner. This is where
the Inuits first found the flour
which a widow first cooked with water and seal oil
to feed her hungry children.
The bread bubbled until it tanned
like a white man, until it was as brown
and delicious as her own hands.

The Shaman

Everyone makes too much of the moon.
It is the same as here -- the same snow,
the same animals. When it seems
like there are too few caribou left
I go to the moon to get a few more.

Everyone makes too much of the sky.
It's the same as here, tipped upside-down.
When the wind blows it rustles the grass stems
loosening snow which gives us snow storms.
The lakes in the grass are our stars.

The worst winters come when the giant up there
needs another snow hut. The snow we get then
are particles hurling from his shovel.
He gets out of breath doing all that work.
His huffing and puffing is the north wind.

Pea Pods and Bladders

Raven always takes credit for creation.
But who knows for sure how he did it?
Some say we all descend from the pea
that Raven planted in sands of a barren beach.
Imagine his surprise when a man
split the door of his pod and walked out
shading his eyes to the sun?
Raven pushed up his beak
like a baseball cap of his favorite team,
and sure enough a human face lurked beneath.
When three more pea-men rolled out of the pod,
Raven decided to take them inland,
leaving the first man on the coast.
Others think this makes more sense --
that when Raven brought light to the world,
a bladder parachuted down from the sky.
Trapped inside were the first man and woman.
They tore their way out and blew air into the bladder-aircraft
until the first mountain popped up.
The man scratched his head against the hills
to create small animals. The woman urinated
to produce the sea and spat
to form rivers and lakes. A few say
we were here all along, just underground --
our tunnel leading to the surface of the earth
plugged up with a stick. When it finally cracked,
men and women crawled out
like so many curious slow-motion ants.


The poems in The Woman with Two Vaginas are inspired by the myths, folklore, and legends of the Inuit.

THE RUMPLESS ONES is from the Netsilik and lgluhk tales.

BLUBBER GIRL, BLUBBER BOY is from the Inuit tale Blubber Boy.


HIM-WHOSE-PENIS-STRETCHES-DOWN-TO-HIS-KNEES is from the East Greenland Inuit tale.

HIM-WHOSE-PENIS-NEVER-SLEPT and HER-WHOSE-VAGINA-ATE-MEN are poems told in the style of Inuit tales.

THE CRAZY MAN is from stories of Kinnaq as told by Asatchaq.

VAGINA is from the East Greenland Inuit tale Utsuuq.

A DIFFERENT KIND OF BIRTH is from the Inuit tale The Man Who Was A Mother.

UPSIDE-DOWN is from the Inuit tale Kakuarshuk.

THREE MOTHERS is after Inuit stories told by Inugpasugjuk, Ivaluatdjuk, and Russell Edson.

DANCING is from the Inuit tale Kidnapped By Wolves.

ATUNGAQ is from the Inuit tale as told by Taivitialuk Alaasuaq.

EVERY TABOO IS HOLY is from the Baffin Island Inuit tale.

THE BABY WHO WAS ALMOST A BABY is from the Greenland Inuit tale The Anghiak.

THE STARVING MOTHER is after Edward Field's Hunger.

THE STARVING BABY is from the Inuit legend of Kotzebue Okailuk's Story.

THE MAGIC ORPHAN is from the Inuit legend of Kotzebue Orphan and his Grandparents.

THE ONE WHO SUDDENLY GREW BIG is after the Inuit tale as told by Taivitialuk Alaasuaq.

THE SPIRIT OF THE TRASH is from the Inuit tale Tunnituagruk.

A DAUGHTER AND A DOG WITH THE SAME NAME is from the Inuit tale Anningat.

THE RAPING OF THE SUN is from the Inuit tale Moon Rapes His Sister Sun.

TERROR IN THE ENTRANCE WAY is after a tale of the Tinigaq as told by Asatchaq.

FOUR WIVES is after an East Greenland Inuit story as told by the grandson of the murderer and his last wife.

THE MAN WHO GOT HIS DRINK OF WATER IN THE END is from the Inuit tale Netsersuitsuarsuk.

THE GREAT LIAR is from the East Greenland Inuit tale Qasiagssaq, the Great Liar.

THE RAVEN WHO LIKED TO DINE ON EYES is from the Inuit tale The Deceitful Raven.

A WOMAN'S STORY COMES TO LIFE is from the Tikigaq legend.

MY GRANDMOTHER IS MY HUSBAND is from the Inuit tale Tuglik and Her Granddaughter.

THE WOMAN WHO WAS KIND TO INSECTS is from the West Greenland Inuit tale.

THE WOMAN WITH TWO VAGINAS is from the Baffin Island Inuit tale Arnatsiq.

THE GIRL WHO CAME BACK TO LIFE is from Inuit legends of the Lower Yukon and Kuskokwim.

THE BOY WHO LONGED TO BE A GHOST is from the Inuit tale Qalaganguase, Who Had No Strength.

MY MOTHER STOLE MY WIFE is from the Inuit tale A Woman Who Married Her Son's Wife.

THE VIRTUES OF LITTLE HUSBANDS is after the Inuit tale The Man Who Used To Be Carried By His Wife as told by Liivai Qumaaluk.

HOW MIST CAME TO BE is after the Inuit tale The Giant and the Man as told by Saah Arngnaituq.

HOW MOSQUITOES CAME TO BE is from the Tlingit tale.

THE HOLLOW MEN is from the Inuit tale The Entrails Thief.

MIGHTY MOUSE is from the Inuit legend of Kotzebue.

THE MURDERED SHAMAN GETS HIS REVENGE is from the Inuit tales told by Iilan Quliapyua.

THE GLUTTON is from the West Greenland Inuit tale.

THE BOY WHO CARRIED HOME FISH IN HIS STOMACH is from the Inuit tale Ihlliagaq's Big Haul as told by Ticusak.

SHOOTING STARS is from the Fort Chimo, Quebec Inuit tale Namik.

WHITE MEN, WHITE FOOD is from the Inuit legend of Kotzebue Flour for Food.

THE SHAMAN is from the Inuit tale The Shaman in the Moon.

About the author:

Denise Duhamel's first full-length book Smile! was published in 1993 by Warm Spring Press. She is also the author of three chapbooks, the most recent of which is It's My Body, a sequence of poems about the lives of Barbie dolls which the actress Becque Olson incorporates in her one-woman show Confessions of an American Doll. Her work has been included in such anthologies as The Best American Poetry 1993, The Best American Poetry 1994 (Scribners) and Mondo Barbie (St. Martin's.) Denise Duhamel is the recipient of a 1989 New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship and a 1993 winner of Poets & Writers' "Writers Exchange" Award. She has had residencies at Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony, and has taught poetry at New York City's West Side Y, Lycoming College, and has been a Resident Poet at Bucknell University and a Writer-in-Residence at The American University in Washington, DC. She is married to the poet Nick Carbo.

Text from back cover:

"In wildly feminist adaptations of Eskimo myths, Denise Duhamel explores issues of gender identity and sexuality in poems so basic to human psychology and anatomy that readers cannot help but be returned to their own wild and basic urges. Here, in The Woman With Two Vaginas is the nature of the poet Denise Duhamel, a talented, hip, young, white woman who carries on, sensuously, with shocking directness, the poetry of the self in the context of the ancient wisdoms of the North."
-Molly Peacock

"Riotously humorous ... Thoroughly engaging. I couldn't put it down."
-Cleanth Brooks

"Certainly one of the most fascinatingly interesting books you will ever read."
-John E. Smelcer


American Letters & Commentary: "THREE MOTHERS"



Confluence: "FOUR WIVES" and "THE HOLLOW MEN"



A Gathering of the Tribes: "ANTUNGAQ"

Green Mountains Review: "PEA PODS AND BLADDERS"

Hanging Loose: "UPSIDE-DOWN"


Journal of Progressive Human Social Services: "THE RAPING OF THE SUN"








West Coast Magazine (Scotland): "MY GRANDMOTHER IS MY HUSBAND"

With special thanks to these authors and editors: Martha Barr, Gladys Fancher, Herman Romer, Helen Stewart, and Marie Stalker, Tales of Eskimo Alaska; Dr. Robert Brown (ed.) and Dr. Henry Rink, Tales and Traditions of the Eskimo; Lynne T. Burke, "Rosie's Doll," New Moon Magazine (Nov/ Dec. 1993); Angela Carter, Fairy Tales from Around the World; Helen Rayburn Caswell, Shadows from the Singing House; Stacey B. Day, Tuluak and Amaulik: Dialogues on Death and Mourning with the Inuit Eskimo of Point Barrow and Wainwright, Alaska; Edward Field, Eskimo Songs; William W. Fitzhugh and Susan A. Kaplan, Inua: Spirit World of the Bering Strait Eskimo; Lawrence D. Kaplan, Ugiuvangmiut Quliapyuit: King Island Tales; Edwin S. Hall, The Eskimo Storyteller: Folktales from Noatak, Alaska; Maurice Metayer, Tales from the Igloo; Lawrence Millman, A Kayak Full of Ghosts; Howard Norman, Northern Tales; William A. Oquilluk, People of Kauwerak: Legends of the Northern Eskimo; Zebedee Nungak and Eugene Armina, Inuit Stories/Legendes Inuit/Povungnituk; Wendell H. Oswalt, Alaskan Eskimos; Jerome Rothenberg, Technicians of the Sacred; Ticasuk, Tales of Ticasuk; Tukummig and Tom Lowenstein, The Things that were Said of Them; Shaman Stories as told by Asatchaq.

With gratitude to Nick Carbo, Maureen Seaton, Peter Zukowski, the Corporation of Yaddo, and John E. Smelcer, publisher of Salmon Run Press for publishing and editing this book.

ISBN 0-9634000-6-1

Printed in the United States of America

99 98 97 96 95     5 4 3 2 1

Salmon Run Press
P. 0. Box 231081
Anchorage, AK 99523-1081

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