Putting Up Fish


            —for my oldest

Rows of Yukon kings hung
in strips over alder frames.
A tin shack held the smoke
so it drifted around the fish,
which dripped a dark orange oil
onto blackened soil. The run 
was thick as willows, and twice a day
the men took the boat across the river
and pulled in the nets.
The women spent their days
and nights gutting, stripping,
and hanging the salmon.

And I was full with you. I took
the smaller fish while you flopped
in my belly. And when I ate the strips,
I felt the alder and ash, the oil
and river, purl through us.
When next spring I offered that gold
instead of my breast, you gnawed
and chewed the meat with your new teeth,
sucking the fatty skin until your mouth
stained an orange glow.
That was seventeen years ago,
when I believed we were still one
and that you would always want
what I wanted. What little I knew.
The first thing to hang
were my expectations.


Mistee St. Clair is an Alaska Literary Award grantee and has been published by Northwest Review, SWWIM Every Day, and more. She lives with her family in Juneau, a northern rainforest, where she is an editor for the Alaska State Legislature. She can be found at MisteeStClair.com.

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Putting Up Fish

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