The Sturgeon’s Lover

Joseph Dandurand

copyright ©2020

In the deepest part of the river
there lived a great sturgeon
and she swam along the bottom
and fed upon the dead who had fallen.
She was about three hundred years old
and when she was full, she came to
the surface and jumped as high as
she could and all the males came
to her and she kissed each male
and let them have her. Months later
she quietly went to her favourite part
of the river and there she released
her eggs in the millions and then began
again to swim the bottom and to search
for any new bodies that had fallen
from upriver, which she feasted upon
with her old softly kissed lips.

The legend goes that a fisherman
had fallen into the waters and was drowning
when the great sturgeon came to him
and asked him for a kiss. He agreed
and the two fell in love and together
they would feed upon all the food
at the bottom of the river. One day
her eggs came to life and created
the people across the water.
The people lived there for centuries
and the sturgeon and man would visit
from time to time, bringing them food
to survive the cold wet winters
until the people too walked into
the water and fell to the bottom
as the man kissed his lover.

Today we do not fish for sturgeon
as their numbers have been decimated
by overfishing and loss of spawning
grounds. Whenever I catch a sturgeon
in my net I let her go and she always
turns back and smiles as she flicks
her mighty tail and splashes me.
My son always laughs as I stand there
stunned and wet, while the great sturgeon
slowly swims away and turns back
to blow us a kiss. We both wipe
our lips as the great sturgeon
falls to the bottom of the water.
There, waiting for her, is her lover.
He kisses her one last time.
She cries as she begins to eat him.

Notes on the Poem

Our Poem of the Week continues to celebrate the 2021 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlisted poets. This week’s poem, The Sturgeon’s Lover, is from Canadian finalist Joseph Dandurand’s shortlisted collection The East Side of It All (Nightwood Editions). Inspired by his fishing experience on the Fraser River, Dandurand writes of a sturgeon who feeds on the dead and falls in love with a man. Dating back to more than 100 million years, sturgeons are now on the edge of extinction. Through his "tragic, wonderful gift of storytelling," Dandurand's poem pays homage to this great fish, who reclaims her river. Watch this conversation between Joseph Dandurand and our Trustee Ian Williams and to hear more about the poet's process and connection to Kwantlen oral stories. “Dandurand is a member of Kwantlen First Nation, located on the Fraser river near Vancouver. His origin and roots are the sources of wisdom and myths, which he masterly embeds in a drama of a dysfunctional modern society. His crystalline clear and remarkably multilayered poems are written in an unforgettable voice of someone who is telling a story in order to survive and to go on. A story of a man who has become a sasquatch, through writing” the judges say. Listen to Joseph Dandurand read the poem of the week in a beautifully illustrated excerpt from the Griffin Poetry Prize Winners Announcement Film here

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