In keeping with my thoughts on fish

I Am Thinking of Salmon
Christina Stoddard

I am thinking of salmon
because I am thinking of breeding.
I am thinking of breeding
because I’ve turned thirty-four
and the bellies of my friends
keep announcing themselves.
I am thinking of breeding
because I have crossed that line
where I say “men” more often than “guys”
and I’ve found one who sleeps next to me
and shops with me for apples and bread.
I am thinking of salmon
because I used to watch them spawn
in the Puyallup River, in White River,
in all the smaller streams where I hiked
with my sisters and we would stop to watch
their silvery pink skins glinting.
I am thinking of salmon,
how they will do anything to return home,
but I’m not like that. I cannot stand
my home—the mildewed building
where my parents still live,
same neighbors for decades
because no one wants to buy these houses.
I am thinking of breeding
because I’ve left that street
forever. But I think of that street
more often lately; it intrudes on my work
and on my quiet moments
and I fall silent in conversation
when I remember the doll house
my mother made out of cardboard
and the gingham scraps she sewed into curtains
because I begged for the dream house
from the commercial.
I am thinking of salmon because
when I was young, before my father
took out a second mortgage
on the house no one would buy,
we used to eat salmon. Whole fish
from Johnny’s, a shed
with an old-fashioned cash register
whose punch-buttons rang like bells,
where the fishermen would pull their boats
up to the dock out back
and you could take your pick
from the wriggling pile in the hold.
I am thinking of salmon
because it’s impossible to get the good stuff
where I live now, a place I arrived at
without really meaning to.
Here the salmon is tasteless
and farmed, a shade of pink
that I know is falsified
because I’ve seen real salmon,
I’ve fished for real salmon. The first salmon
I caught when I was seven or eight.
My uncle showed me how to slit its belly
to clean it, and when I slid my knife through—
he said don’t be so gentle, said
you can’t hurt it—I opened its stomach
to find weird slick little beads inside.
Roe, my uncle said, and I didn’t know what
that meant, so without thinking
he said Eggs, she was pregnant.
And I cried. I keep thinking
of this salmon while I keep thinking
about breeding. I’ve caught lots of other salmon
and never found roe again.
I am thinking about home while Lisa and I
meet for lunch. Her belly
is so big she knocks over the salt
and I’m not sure whether I want this
for myself. I think about swimming
against the river. I think about
what I would do with a daughter.
I consider my job and I consider
leaving my job. I could not trust strangers
with my child. Not after what happened to me
as a child. How tired Lisa looks,
but how happy. And again how tired.
I think of the terrible things this life requires
of us. I think about how my parents believe
that we all lived with God in a pre-mortal life,
before our souls received physical bodies
on Earth. They believe
that every child birthed on this planet
was first a soul up in heaven
selecting its parents. I’m not Mormon
anymore but I cannot help
imagining my daughter looking down,
crossing her fingers that I will say yes,
waiting to be born.
The salmon don’t have to prepare,
paint a room in the house, buy a crib.
They swim in the direction
they are pulled. They just go.

Photo by Drew Farwell on Unsplash