Decades of this place piled in me and yet
never the bodies of salmon in blackness.
Through the spread of hemlock,
under damp hearts of alder leaves,
I hear the slices and surges of effort,
heavy with purpose, pulling the sea in behind.
The thrash of fins draws me down into mud.
All of me wants to fall to my stomach,
slither through twisted roots of spruce,
enter the swollen flow,
glide into that place of muscled salmon path.
I want to divide currents head-on,
split water by tail,
find the birth-curve of gravel.
I want to feel it all—
the jaw ache of melted mountain oxygen
against the memory of salt water,
the tenacity of cells unfed,
the inextinguishable need,
consuming more than my ragged body,
to spill open and deposit.
And now the question—
would I know I was dying?
Would it flutter under the scales and over the gills, the knowing?
Would it come to the embryo or later in the tides,
would it gather at the mouth of the creek,
whisper in the swirl of eddies,
urge passage in the threads between boulders
until the body twists, and finally the soft stream of eggs,
the clouds of milt, finally, maybe, the knowing.
Perhaps peace is this: the body hanging in tatters
after dancing in water, dedicated to an end,
having carried a life to sea and back.
Or this: the shiver of cells
anticipating forest, bear, huckleberry,
to a creek where the stones call
lay down, lay down in the silt,
in the unceasing current.
Aleria Jensen lives and writes from the shores of Auke Bay in Juneau, Alaska, where she works as a federal biologist coordinating marine mammal conservation and management programs. Her poems and essays have appeared in a variety of publications, including Orion, Alaska Quarterly Review, Potomac Review, Tidal Echoes, and Camas: The Nature of the West. Recent work is also forthcoming in the online journal Sea Stories, a publication of the Blue Ocean Institute.