Joseph Dandurand is a storyteller, poet, playwright and member of Kwantlen First Nation located on the Fraser River about twenty minutes east of Vancouver. He resides there with his three children. Dandurand is the director of the Kwantlen Cultural Centre, artistic director of the Vancouver Poetry House and author of three other books of poetry, I Want (2015), Hear and Foretell (2015), and SH:LAM (The Doctor) (2015). Dandurand was Vancouver Public Library’s 2019 Indigenous storyteller in residence.
Joseph Dandurand is a poet-storyteller.
Joseph Dandurand is a poet-storyteller. Portraying Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside’s prostitutes, heroin addicts, alcoholics and abused, his autobiographical poems could easily drown in the brutality and tragedy they capture – but instead they heal. These are deeply moving spiritual invocations, extricated from poisoned air by a fallen angel. 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.
by Joseph Dandurand
If we talked about the past
we would say how strong our people
were and how they had survived
the constant rains and the great floods
and how they lived in the ground
and how they, like us, took the fish
throughout the year and how it fed
their families. And if we talk about
how they would war against other
river and island tribes who would
come upriver to try to take our people
back with them, we would say
we had great warriors who would wait
for the canoes to come to shore
where we would club them to death.
But today we do not use violence
to survive and we have become quiet
and accepting of our neighbors though
in the beginning we were almost wiped out
as sickness came with the people on ships
who wanted to trade and cheat us of our fish.
That sickness nearly wiped out all river people
but today we are still here, and we survive.
Our children have grown up with loss
and alcohol and drugs and they too fight
for their lives in a world that does not
seem to care about them but we try
to teach them the lessons from a long time
before there was anything written down.
In our ceremonies we repeat those words
and our children will also repeat those words
and so we the river people are still here.
We are all the silent warriors and we say
enough is enough and our young they pick up
the drum and they sing new songs
and they stand and shout to the world
that we are still here and will never leave
this simple island on the great river where
we still take the fish and yes, we still live
where we have been for thousands of years
and we are the ancestors of our future as
a child picks up a drum and begins to sing
a new song given to him from long ago.
Copyright © 2021
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.
Copyright © 2020