Star Poems, The: acâhkos nikamowini-pîkiskwêwina

25 January 2024

The Star Poems: A Cree Sky Narrative/acâhkos nikamowini-pîkiskwêwina: nêhiyawi-kîsik âcimowin”
by Jesse Rae Archibald-Barber
Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$24.95 ISBN 9781778690174

It’s innovative, bilingual, and gives us another kind of Genesis. The Star Poems: A Cree Sky Narrative/acâhkos nikamowini-pîkiskwêwina: nêhiyawi-kîsik âcimowin is a Cree/English poetry collection by Jesse Rae Archibald-Barber, a Regina writer, editor and professor of Indigenous Literatures at the First Nations University of Canada. Archibald-Barber has ingeniously combined traditional Indigenous creation stories—The Star stories—with quantum physics, and the result is a star-studded collection of eye-opening poems.

The author essentially contemporizes Cree oral tradition stories (that “teach us how we are all related to Creation through the same source of energy and spirit”) by spinning them into poems that merge with the “spiritual and scientific understandings of the cosmos and the quantum foundations of reality”. He cites Blackfoot scholar Leroy Little Bear’s talk on quantum physics and Indigenous spirituality as a major inspiration, particularly Little Bear’s discussion on “how the quantum superstrings are what Indigenous cultures have traditionally called spirit”. He also laud’s Cree educator Wilfred Buck’s video, “Legend of the Star People,” which describes the “Hole-in-the-Sky—a ‘spatial anomaly’ or a ‘wormhole’ that leads to and from the spirit world” via the help of Star Woman and Grandmother Spider. By presenting his work in English and Cree, he simultaneously also helps keep the Cree language alive.

This stunning collection’s divided into two sections: “The Star People” is the stronger of the two. It’s told within a sweat lodge’s “dome of woven willows” and contains the Creation narrative. Throughout the book the poet effectively weaves the here and now with the celestial, ie: “a sudden splash cuts the silence/rocks cracking in the cosmic hearth/the universe takes its quantum shape/fills itself with its first breath”. This first powerful poem, “Emergence,” includes: “and I crawl out through the door/a dazed child, a little spirit/dragging space-time behind me/like an old blanket”. The three-page piece introduces the “story of the stars/of the stones/of our grandfathers and grandmothers,” and in following poems we meet the Star Woman, who “dances/with a blanket made of stars” and Grandmother Spider, guardian of “the quantum door”. Star Woman “plucked a string” from “countless self-amplifying loops” and eventually “the galaxy began to fray/stars spilling out like scattered beads”. The Creator steps in and warns to respect “the threads” as they “belong to the universe and hold the sky together”.

Star Woman sees the “earth gleaming in the starlight”. She wants to go there, and does, in human form. The other Star Children, hearing her sing, soon follow, and become “the People of the Earth”.

It’s a fascinating braiding of the traditional and scientific, and some kind of magic happens as a result. The poems also touch on how “the balance was undone”: the “Paper People” arrived, the Indigenous “were barred/from walking on the open land,” and traditions were lost.

This stanza alone proves this poet’s prowess:

the busker strums a song

on the corner

where our light

cones overlap

and the strings vibrate

for a moment

as I catch your glance

from the window of a passing car.


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