Salmon River Steward's gyotaku print of a fall chinook salmon from his homewaters.

I Am Salmon

I Am Salmon

my body
the elegant result
of millions of years of trial and error
adapting to mountain ranges that have come and gone
rivers once flowing now dry
rocks made and unmade
and me
still here

I am salmon
and my body is a simple miracle
red of gill
iridescent of scale
muscled for bursts and glides
small white ear bone in my head bearing
witness to it all
annular rings written
in calcium and mineral molecules
the origins of my mother and father
what river birthed me
what I ate
and when
and where
and this is only one page
in the book that I am

and you two legged ones
coming late to this party
scarce 200 years now
but bearing chain saws and damns
and sharpened hooks and strong nets
you who we call the salmon eaters
but who amongst you could survive
being dropped from your mothers belly
onto clean black rock
into cold rush of oxygen rich waters
emerging with only an egg sack at your belly
for a jumpstart
and nothing more

tumbling down tributaries
into estuaries
where the tang of salt burns your gills
spit out the mouth of the river
into the great liquid canyons of the continental shelf
with its legions of oil rich eulachon sand lance anchovy
and herring

who amongst you

could return from a great arc to the north
looping back
years later
in a navigational miracle
to the taste
of the river
of your birth
feeling the flesh pulled from your bones
no food in your belly
single-minded purpose
of passing the genetic baton
in the perfect
tiny red spheres
like the circle completed once more

who amongst you

and in this midst of this
might race run
we give you humans our all
gifting your race with our bodies
from time immemorial

and all we ask in return
is that when you take our brilliant flesh
into your bodies
raising us to your lips
that you pause
and remember that
what you are consuming is this optimism
and persistence and selflessness
of ours
we salmon becoming human

and all we ask in return
is to honor our gift
by making the work you do in the world
extraordinary
burning us as rich bright fuel
so that the work you do in the world
will be
extraordinary

I am salmon

POEM & GYOTAKU: Duncan Berry Salmon River Steward





Posted in:

Community Strong Runs

Join the Movement.

Help us protect our precious watersheds with your support.

Become a Member