I Am Thinking of Salmon by 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.


Christina Stoddard’s poems have appeared in various journals including DIAGRAM, Spoon River Poetry Review, and Slipstream. Originally from Washington State, Christina currently lives in Nashville, TN where she is the Managing Editor of a scholarly journal in economics. She is also a Contributing Editor at Cave Wall. www.christinastoddard.com