Poem / Kinship


An Indigenous anthropologist-poet searches for ancestors while acknowledging the need to adapt.
white feather floats on clear water with rocks at the bottom.

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Matrilines - Listen

If you missed the introduction to “Matrilines,” you can find it here.

Where are the women in this story, Emaq?

Only birds lacking fur. [aside,] Grounded birds
lack grace, like fish out of water.
Where are the other

furs, the seal
skin coats?

Everyone is wearing birds
or thin cotton—cotton will not keep
their bodies warm    or dry,
will not carry them home.

It is not traditional.[a sigh,] The dead don’t have the answers.

The arch is an imagined thing, a point
of departure, the qayak’s bow curved to
the wave, the line that inevitably breaks—

I looked into the water and saw
my tanraq floating
feathers spread
open mouth            and waiting
among faces I didn’t recognize.

I knew it by the worried lines, by the seams
knotted in its coat—
my mother’s family

was absent,
and my throat was already cut.

… too many lines to trace …

In the water was my wound.
In the water my wound
was hurried in cotton from the shore.

You will not hunt for them, Apaq—
my grandmothers are not waiting there.

Cotton will suffice in the places we will go. After all,
you can’t just throw that salmon back to the
and expect it to swim,
or feathers to teach us to fly.

The ground bird must learn to adapt
if it is not to be consumed.

Abigail Chabitnoy is the author of In the Current Where Drowning Is Beautiful (forthcoming, Wesleyan 2022); How to Dress a Fish, shortlisted for the 2020 International Griffin Prize for Poetry and winner of the 2020 Colorado Book Award; and the linocut illustrated chapbook Converging Lines of Light. She currently teaches at the Institute of American Indian Arts low-residency MFA program and is an assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Chabitnoy is a member of the Tangirnaq Native Village in Kodiak, Alaska. She has an MFA in poetry and a B.A. in English and anthropology.


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