Sturgeon

Karen Solie

copyright ©Karen Solie 2001.

Jackfish and walleye circle like clouds as he strains
the silt floor of his pool, a lost lure in his lip,
Five of Diamonds, River Runt, Lazy Ike,
or a simple spoon, feeding
a slow disease of rust through his body’s quiet armour.
Kin to caviar, he’s an oily mudfish. Inedible.
Indelible. Ancient grunt of sea
in a warm prairie river, prehistory a third eye in his head.
He rests, and time passes as water and sand
through the long throat of him, in a hiss, as thoughts
of food. We take our guilts
to his valley and dump them in,
give him quicksilver to corrode his fins, weed killer,
gas oil mix, wrap him in poison arms.
Our bottom feeder,
sin-eater.

On an afternoon mean as a hook we hauled him
up to his nightmare of us and laughed
at his ugliness, soft sucker mouth opening,
closing on air that must have felt like ground glass,
left him to die with disdain
for what we could not consume.
And when he began to heave and thrash over yards of rock
to the water’s edge and, unbelievably, in,
we couldn’t hold him though we were teenaged
and bigger than everything. Could not contain
the old current he had for a mind, its pull,
and his body a muscle called river, called spawn.

Notes on the Poem

What makes Karen Solie's poem "Sturgeon" so powerful and unforgettable? The poet packs a double ... no, triple ... no, quadruple ... wait, maybe more ... punch of devices to very potent cumulative effect. The first one-two punch is the combination of palpable, gritty realism with which the poem's protagonist (the sturgeon, not the teenaged narrator) is described coupled with the symbolism with which he is invested. With "a lost lure in his lip", this "oily mudfish" with his "soft sucker mouth" is the epitome of ugliness to his youthful tormentors. Yet when they look on incredulously as he battles to return to the river, the sturgeon is transformed into a marvellous symbol, the ultimate tenacious life force. Combined with the memorable realism and symbolism is the poem's deft, pointed choices of words, echoing with near-rhymes. "Inedible. / Indelible." "Ancient grunt of sea" ... "Our bottom feeder, / sin-eater." Echoing images, too, are phrases such as "a lost lure in his lip" and "an afternoon mean as a hook." Further, the poem gathers provocative contrasts and juxtapositions: age and youth, toxicity and purity, helplessness and power and, finally and emphatically, life and death. The greatest impact of all in this poem is how forcefully it drives home what triumphs in the end.

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