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Wolf Knife

 In the mid August, in the second year
of my First Polar Expedition, the snow and ice of winter
almost upon us, Kantiuk and I
attempted to dash the sledge
along Crispin Bay, searching again for relics
of the Frankline Expedition.
Now a storm blew, and we turned back, and we struggled slowly in snow, lest we depart land and venture onto ice from which a sudden fog and thaw would abandon us to the Providence of the sea.
Near nightfall I thought I heard snarling behind us.
Kantiuk told me that two wolves, lean as the bones of a wrecked ship, had followed us the last hour, and snapped their teeth as if already feasting.
I carried the one cartridge only in my riffle, since, approaching the second winter, we rationed stores.
As it turned dark, we could push no further, and made camp in a corner of ice hummocks, and the wolves stopped also, growling just past the limits of vision, coming closer, until I could hear the click of their feet on ice.
Kantiuk laughed and remarked that the wolves appeared to be most hungry.
I raised my rifle, prepared to shoot the first that ventured close, hoping to frighten the other.
Kantiuk struck my rifle down and said again that the wolves were hungry, and laughed.
I feared that my old companion was mad, here in the storm, among ice-hummocks, stalked by wolves.
Now Kantiuk searched in his pack, and extracted two knives--turnoks, the Innuits called them-- which by great labor were sharpened, on both sides, to the sharpness like the edge of a barber's razor, and approached our dogs and plunged both knives into the body of our youngest dog who had limped all day.
I remember that I consider turning my rifle on Kantiuk as he approached, then passed me, carrying knives red with the gore of our dog-- who had yowled, moaned, and now lay expired, surrounded by curious cousins and uncles, possibly hungry--and he trusted the knives handle-down in the snow.
Immediately after he left the knives, the vague, gray shape of wolves turned solid, out of the darkness and the snow, and set ravenously to licking blood from the honed steel.
the double-edge of the knives so lacerated the tongues of the starved beasts that their own blood poured copiously forth to replenish the dog's blood, and they ate more furiously than before, while Knatiuk laughed, and held his sides laughing.
And I laughed also, perhaps in relief that Providence had delivered us yet again, or perhaps--under conditions of extremity-- far from Connecticut--finding there creatures acutely ridiculous, so avid to swallow their own blood.
First one, and then the other collapsed, dying, bloodless in the snow black with their own blood, and Kantiuk retrieved his turnoks, and hacked lean meat from the thigh of the larger wolf, which we ate grateful, blessing the Creator, for we were hungry.

Poem by Donald Hall
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