Boreal forest, old as time. Bare feet grip stone giants
glaciers left behind when they made this place. Here
the river slows, stills, deepens. Its cerulean depths
betray no secrets; and yet
your own requiem and rebirth
The water’s so clear it is less like swimming and
more like soaring on air that presses you
down and bears you up
suspended, bones thrumming, breath
surrendered to the shock of cold.
Turn your face to the current
eyes and mouth wide as
gills, and draw it in. All around you
king salmon are hovering, sun-pierced and
shape-shifting: now monstrous, now ghostly.
This is their birthplace, and the sanctuary
where they’ve come to die.
Study their graying jaws, their bloodless gills.
Let your own lungs quiet their clamor for air
and rest, caged in cold bone and clear membrane.
The kings are softly rotting. Their once-proud scales
fall away in strips, white flesh the current takes and
feeds to the earth.
In some places you can see their fragile
filigree of bones: ribs like lace
lightly, cunningly sewn over slowing hearts, torn livers.
See this gasping shadow-beast at your side.
Once a tireless silver engine of muscle, he has crossed oceans
and slipped fisher’s nets, found
the full moon’s path through countless black nights:
hunter, hunted, unknown peregrine.
Look closely, you can read them now: along his white belly
and skeletal fins and rotting sides are written
tales of teeth, hooks, rocks, fights, nets.
Legless and wingless, he has climbed, crawled and leapt
waterfalls and rockslides and fallen trees;
he has wriggled through jaws of grizzlies, talons of eagles
always and only with one goal:
This house is holy ground; its architecture,
the beams built of roots and rock, the vaulted ceiling
where water meets sunlight and changes it to moving gold:
it is both cradle and grave.
Rise now, let the shadow-kings go. They are already going,
their soft weight pulling them deeper
the sockets of their eyes now empty, the shuddering jaws
carving sidelong patterns in the silty riverbed — this
is the kings’ final testament.
The river will erase these last words, but you, rising
You will learn to breathe again;
the sunlight will fall differently on your skin.
You will shine, in certain moments