Once, the rivers moved both ways, up
through the one mind of salmon, silvered
into many bodies, sweeping across
the land like weather. I stood
knee-deep in the last of it, Alaska
the year the tundra burned,
the year the old ones fell through
the ice that always held. I saw
an old buck, hook-jawed and mottled,
sloughing off skin, nosing his weary
way past my shin. Then I saw the river
turn back its silted face, mumbling
to its darling gravel along the shore.
The gulls lifted and flung
their white flags, their shrieks tearing
holes in the rain. I tell you
I saw it as it once was here
and everywhere – the ground
thundering thousands of hooves,
wings darking out
the sky, numberless animals
spreading and gathering like storms.
How salmon carried the sea’s longing
to return. I stood knee-deep
in my own longing, casting
along the edge of current and slack,
dragging orange yarn tied on a hook
across their path. And when
the sockeye struck, the yank
pulled both the oldest
and youngest parts of me. And when
I pressed my palm on the flank,
that golden eye – cold
and steady as it stared
where? Shelves of ice sloughing
into sea, rivers running straight
down the moulins. The rushing
world, the melt. The fire.
The fish shuddering still
under my hand.
Anne Haven McDonnell lives in Santa Fe, NM and teaches as an associate professor of English and Creative Writing at the Institute of American Indian Arts. She holds an MFA from the University of Alaska, Anchorage.