The Catfish and the Eagle

Carol A. Hand

Angeline and Valentine,
The catfish and the eagle
One lived in murky waters
And the other, born to fly

Despite mud, Angeline thrived
While crows of conformity
Kept Valentine on the ground
In a sorry state, barely alive

Sometimes Angeline would gaze
At the sky so blue up above
At eagle wings gleaming in sun’s rays
As she waited patiently for love

Valentine stood on the shore
Looking at his reflection
Feeling lost but wanting more
And wishing for affection

When their eyes met in wonder
To see another so strange
Their fate was sealed – love’s thunder
Though both sensed disastrous change


Drawing: Carol A. Hand

Angeline gave Valentine
A reason to try to fly
With talons gently holding her
They rose as fluffy clouds passed by

Suddenly she gasped for breath
She needed her water home
A reluctant Valentine
Left her and flew off alone

Ah, it would be a different tale
Had he simply stayed away
Alas they were caught in passions’ gale
Or perhaps a karmic debt to pay

Each time they flew a bit further
Valentine’s talons dug in deeper
Angeline wounded gasping for breath
Finally knew her only release would be death

Valentine tightened his grip in sorrow
Freezing his own heart for Angeline
To give her another tomorrow.
But as life would have it – call it fate
Angeline’s freedom came too late


This is a metaphoric story about my Anglo American father and my Ojibwe mother. Names do have meanings, as do Ojibwe clans.

The catfish clan is likely the one that my mother was born into – the clan of the teachers and scholars whose role is to advise leaders and help resolve disputes. The eagle was viewed as a symbol of American settlers, and the eagle clan designation was assigned to the children of mixed Ojiwe/European unions when the fathers were of European descent.

Angeline (meaning “angel” or “messenger”) was my mother’s middle name, in many ways fitting. Although forced to live outside of her culture for much of her adult life and ashamed of her heritage, she was kind, hardworking, and a truly compassionate nurse and gifted healer.  Valentine (meaning “strong, vigorous, healthy’) was my father’s middle name. Certainly these were potentials he was born with but his abusive childhood and military service left serious insecurities, bitterness, and a short fuse when dealing with frustration. He could be funny and charming, or quick to anger and violence, depending on his mercurial moods. He was also brilliant, but not acknowledged as such because of his working class roots, fractious personality, and lack of even a high school diploma.

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28 thoughts on “The Catfish and the Eagle

  1. Carol, your creativity is amazing. Thank you for the poem and explaining the meaning of it. The poem seemed sad and frightening at the same time and your descriptions of your parents made me understand where those emotions were coming from.

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  2. “Although forced to live outside of her culture for much of her adult life and ashamed of her heritage, she was kind, hardworking, and a truly compassionate nurse and gifted healer. ”

    “Ashamed of her heritage.” So sad and maddening to me, and yet she was conditioned by this white, European, male dominated system to feel this way.

    And now, the rest of us, “the chosen” European ancestry lot, are getting a tiny taste of what your people, and others we refer to as “minorities,” have been going through for eons. And in this sense, it seems right that the rest of us pay a hard price, it seems just to me, in a world where justice hardly if ever exists. After all, we and our ancestors are as responsible for this feeling of your mother as the powers that be, since we sat by and did nothing to prevent their crimes against your people and the rest of humanity.

    Note I wrote “your people,” when in truth, your people are my people, as I am theirs! When will we ever awaken to this most basic of truths?

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      1. I hope I don’t go on too long? You just always seem to touch an area in my and heart and mind where I feel I must respond. My x always said, “You talk too much!”;-)

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        1. Your comments are just the right length, Sojourner – they express what you wish to share. You have important perspectives and insights, and I’m honored you feel comfortable voicing them here. (If I wanted to know in a picture and phrase what people had for lunch, I’d spend more time on Facebook 🙂 )

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  3. Wow, this piece is very moving, especially how you’ve combined your poetry, visual art (not “just” a writer, but artist too- very cool! 🙂 ) and helpful background information. Such a powerful metaphor, simultaneously addressing issues and dynamics in personal/universal human emotions and relationships, in intercultural relationships, plus the dynamics between those two aspects of life. While your metaphor is especially strong referring to your own traditions, the underlying issues can be understood everywhere.

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    1. Your comments are always a delight, Hildegard – kind with such thoughtful, astute analytical insights. I’m grateful that you see many dimensions in this piece. I have also been thinking about the national imagery – the eagle (the US) and the catfish (Indigenous cultures, many of which were based on sophisticated social technologies for reducing internal conflict). As you so eloquently say, the forces of domination are universal at an individual level. And perhaps at a national level? Thank you for making this point with such clarity!


  4. I so love learning about clans and clanship ties. I find the Eagle Clan interesting. My tribe doesn’t have a clan like that, but I wish there were something like it. Cherokee clans are matrilineal, so if your mother (and mothers before her) wasn’t a Cherokee, you don’t have a clan unless you’re adopted into one by a clan’s elder.

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