Eskimo whizzamajig

         Optimism, in a strange,
American way, this zippy
         caption for what was foreign
beyond language.

         Thingamabob. Doohickey
distant as the need
         for a haasux
(spear-thrower in Aleut)
         or unaaq (Inupiaq pole
to check ice thickness).

This tool (perhaps a sakku)
         clever and useless to the secretary
(was it Miriam?) who typed
         the label that has yellowed.

Widget. Whatzit….

                           but some words drift.

         Take vaxa gididzagh, Athabaskan for
that with which things are spread
         and so now butter knife.
         Or lastax — fermented fur seal flipper —
now the three-petaled gizmo
         that spins beneath a boat.

         And consider the kayak,
translated through fiberglass
         and rotomold,
neoprene and rubber.
         Bright alchemy
that’s made it whizzamajig
         to its own source.

Elizabeth Bradfield is the author of Interpretive Work: Poems and the founder of Broadsided Press. She is currently a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University.