Ratatoskr by Alice Major

Ratatoskr, squirrel, scurries
up and down the ash tree,
his world-axis, Yggdrasil,
heaven-wheel, winding spindle,
one tree that transects
the cosmos.

His scold-chatter carries gossip
and earthworm insults up
to the raven that alights, folds
wings like a wet umbrella,
black at the topmost branch.

This ash tree in my garden
grown big and bigger –
decades of girth-gain.
The crotch I once reached
on tiptoe, rescuing the cat,
now is far above my head.
The cat departed, a carton
of ashes among the worms,
wrapped by tree roots.

Earthworms not native here –
scrubbed from the landscape
ice ages ago. But now inching
back, rubber-bodied tubes,
agents of transmutation.
Ratatoskr scrambles, Raven
unfolds wings, the worms
chew through leaf-litter
and ashes. The ash tree
ever grows outward.


In Norse mythology, Ratatoskr is a squirrel who runs up and down the great ash tree Yggdrasil at the centre of the world He carries messages between the eagle perched at the top and the “wyrm” that dwells beneath one of the tree’s three roots.


Copyright © Alice Major. Originally published in Heartwood: Poems for the Love of Trees (League of Canadian Poets, 2018) and also appears in Welcome to the Anthropocene (University of Alberta Press, 2018).


Alice Major‘s 12th poetry collection Welcome to the Anthropocene observes the comedy and tragedy of this human-dominated moment on Earth. Alice delivered the 2018 Anne Szumigalski lecture, exploring her lifelong interest in science in a talk called “Scansion and Science.” She served as the first poet laureate of Edmonton and president of the League of Canadian Poets, and received the 2017 Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Distinguished Artist Award.

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