i twist and gasp
open and close my mouth
searching for air
whenever a sturgeon is caught in the rainy river
the feel of strange hands touching my body
to be free
to go where i want to go
the impact of stick or rock on bone
the splash of colour
then the emptiness that is my head
my head like a midnight sky if the stars and moon were captured
by another heaven
even when i am awake again
sitting at the kitchen table
staring at my plate with its bramble design
and rough chipped edges
that is why i do not eat sturgeon
because i know
when a sturgeon is caught in the rainy river
i am a sturgeon
and i dangle on hooks
Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, “sturgeon” from My Heart Is a Stray Bullet. Copyright © 1997 by Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm. Reprinted by permission of the author.
Source: An Anthology of Canadian Native Literature in English, 4th ed. (Oxford University Press, 2013)
1. How do the verbs and line-breaks work to create a feeling of breathlessness? How might you read it aloud?
2. What is the relationship between physical violence and freedom in this poem?
3. Why does the poet talk about her kitchen table, her plate?
4. Does the poet anthropomorphize the sturgeon? Is she attributing human emotions to its experience?
5. How would you characterize the emotional effect of this poem? Does it affect what you think about fishing?
6. Write a poem where you imagine yourself in the body of an animal. What resonances and empathy can you find in relation to its life and/or death?
Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm founded Kegedonce Press in 1993, to publish and promote Indigenous writers. The motto of the Press is w’daub awae or ‘speaking true’ in Ojibwe. Find out more about their work here: https://kegedonce.com/
Read an interview with Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm about the marginalization of Indigenous voices here: https://indiancountrynews.com/index.php/283-culture/reviews/6113-kateri-akiwenzie-damm-our-voices-are-marginalized
Sturgeon can grow really large! See this video for a 9 year old boy catching (and then releasing) a 600lb Great White Sturgeon in BC in 2015: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZucRXyo1jCw