Elizabeth Bradfield

Eskimo whizzamajig

—label circa 1940 for an ivory spear tip in the

MacMillan Collection, Provincetown



            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.



“Eskimo whizzamajig” first appeared in Orion Magazine, March/April 2009.