When I started my series #IndianLovePoems, everyone yelled at me to read Kateri’s work. And I did. And I laughed and blushed and giggled. I also admired the multiple forms her poetry takes – both formal and traditional to the free-form verses and oral narrative structures. This collection touches upon many topics, and I think it’s a good representation of the multiple layers and complexity that being an Indigenous woman is. Political. Matriarchal. Sexual. Being.
stray bullets – p.13
The speaker present herself as objects, things, ideas throughout this poem. At first, she is Touch – “a history book / full o flies and half-forgotten truths” and then she is Heart – “a stray bullet / ricocheting in an empty room.” Then her body, she is Head, which was sold for shiny trinkets, then her Beliefs were bought cheap, with promises only fools believe in. Finally, her Name was stolen by people in black robes, and her World was taken for “a putting green.”
In her title, she actually calls this her “Oka Re/Vision.” This is obviously a political poem, showcasing how our history has been forged by people who hold power, how they made promises that they would not keep, and how our land is deemed more worthy to them when it’s for their entertainment use, as opposed to our spiritual practices. It’s a poem that is hard to read – because it doesn’t feel like an opinion, so much as facts. And that’s what’s hard to see – the correlations between forced Christianity and stolen lands and languages at contact era to the everyday struggle of trying to keep our practices and language, even today.
my grandmothers – p. 32
I loved the poem. First off, the structure of the poem made me swoon a little. There are two poems in one here, set apart due to the styling, and it is telling two stories that can mingle together but are also defined by tone and images as separate from one another.
Anna is the grandmother with lots of moments and memories. This is an urban Grandmother with shopping trips to Eaton’s, eating chocolate, speaking to the butcher. She remembers how her grandma used to have nightmares, and how she was bought pain oat the flea market. She remembers her grandma “having too much wine” and them all laughing. She “remembers my ears burning from listening / while you recounted your days / and how many times i wasn’t really listening / because i thought i’d heard it all before / and was young enough to believe i’d always remember it / now this is all i can say.”
And you realize that for a life time of moments and stories with her grandmother, these moments of clarity aren’t enough for anyone.
Her other grandmother is Irene. The form becomes much more spread out onto the page, soft moments telling a single story. She would cling to her grandma’s hand son the way to church, and when Irene spoke, the words would “hook in my brain” and even now, she remembers them like a gentle tug on her thoughts.
This poems feels like an honouring to the matriarch’s in the speaker’s life, and while Anna is more narrative, Irene feels like a memory being pressed between pages, trying to secure a moment in ink.
desire – p. 43
Kateri is often spoken of as The Author of Indigenous Erotica and I think that’s a pretty cool title to be bestowed. With her poem, desire, she speaks plainly but intimately, as is she is whispering tender and naughty love words to her chosen partner. And we, as readers, get to react as we would – I blush, but that’s just me. And the fact that I blush makes me laugh and giggle, and I think there-in lies the power. Emotionally connected, emotionally engaged now.
In desire, the speaker tells the person that she wants them “inside me” and that “i want your love your babies” indicating not just sex but release, orgasm, and life together. She wants it all “skin touching, my name on your tongue” and she wants to “shake the earth / with you.”
It is a small poem, with only 40 words or so. But powerful. Blunt. Striking. It shows a moment of intimacy, spread out on the sheet.
buy the book: my heart is a stray bullet – Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm