Matrilines


An Indigenous anthropologist-poet searches for ancestors while acknowledging the need to adapt.

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
crest
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
water
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.