WINTER 2015 – Atauciq, Malruq, Pingayun — A poem inspired by a RurAL CAP Head Start pre-school in Toksook Bay

Haley Nevak at Toksook Bay Head Start. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

Haley Nevak at Toksook Bay Head Start. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

By Don Reardon

One: Atauciq

Cup’aq rides on her mother’s back

Down the slippery boardwalk

Past the curled and snoozing sled dogs

towards her head start on life

towards the magical building

a place unlike anywhere in the village

with little tables and chairs made just for her

with fingerpaints, shelves of colorful books, and a toy kitchen

how many boats can you count?

her mother asks

Cup’aq stretches a blue knitted mitten

out to the morning mirror of the bay

and counts:

Atuaciq, Malruq, Pingayun

she says

now kass’atun

her mother says

One, Two, Three

Cup’aq says.


Two: Malruq

Isaac’s son was shy at first

but the cook took him

under her wing and now

each night he talks about how

he set up tables for lunch

and painted muskox, ducks, and seals

with his fingers

sometimes Isaac hears him

singing the Yup’ik alphabet song

and when they walk together to school

in the morning dark

the snow diamonds sparkling

in the flashlight’s glow

he remembers his own father

walking him through the village

braving the monster-filled shadows

bundled back then in his little squirrel-lined parka

the thick warm hood drawn tight to keep out the wind

Isaac wonders if his son will someday

make the same walk with a son of his own

and if their stories of hunting and school will be

told in the tongue of their ancestors.


Three: Pingayun

Cup’aq’s brown eyes turn down

to the table where her oldest two daughters,

clench crayons and turn snow white

pages into worlds of color

she carries her third,

on her hip into the kitchen

who wants to make necklaces?

she asks, carrying a flat cake pan

filled with dyed Cheerios

red, plain, and blue

she made her own jewelry once

slipping string through the small cereal holes

fine tuning motor skills, learning

the months and days, and how to brush baby teeth

and wash dirty hands

now, a world away from the Bering Sea

and the village she called home

she tries to recreate that magic

of learning and excitement

for her own daughters

they count the little cereal gems

in Yup’ik: Atauciq, Malruq, Pingayun

This poem originally appeared on the Rasmuson Foundation website ( and is reprinted with permission from Don Reardon. Don Rearden is an associate professor at the University of Alaska and board president for the 49 Writers. He is a produced screenwriter and was awarded a 2014 Rasmuson Foundation Individual Artist Project award. His novel, The Raven’s Gift, was a 2013 Washington Post Notable Fiction Selection and reflects his up-bringing in Yupik communities in Alaska. For more information see