AMANDA FROM PHILADELPHIA DISCUSSES THE LOVE WITH WHICH HER MOTHER BOUGHT THEM SALMON EVERY FRIDAY & HER FOND MEMORIES OF IT DESPITE VEGANISM & I THINK OF MY CHILDHOOD KITCHEN

where my mother wrapped the spessartine fish in tin foil
after rubbing in the red pepper and the salt and the brown sugar
the olive oil glimmering as skin
and placed the whole precious metal of it onto the middle rack.

& i think of the stream where we poured the smolt
and how i always wondered if they would try to find their way back
to the tank we raised them in, or if they liked the brown water well enough
to simply call it home.

& how that was fourteen years ago so at least the babies
of their babies have now made the same saline journey
from the same rocks, to the same home once removed.

& i've been here for seven years
enough to have gone to the ocean and back to a cold and shady creek
to lie my belly white on the shallows and sleep,
to be done with this whole place

but so far i, too, simply call this home and the ocean a visit
despite where they raised me.

& i think of the way the foil peeled back steaming
the oil and sugar a dark stuck caramel,
the fish pale and opaque as my inner lip,
the way the bones were our good luck charms stacked high—

& how i also don’t eat it anymore, 
but always dream them running, 
all us kids standing on the slick wooden bridge to watch,
joyful and fresh and just as silver. 

 

HOW SHE CARVED THE SALISH SEA AND WHAT SHE MADE THERE

god pulled the crisp fat leg off a dungeness crab, poured
the thick blood into the inlet freshly dug &
called it good. 

capped the rocks with hordes of hollow-eyed barnacles,
bruise lipped anemones puckering in colonies—
god liked the sharp and the slick,
the violet tentacle and the ochre sting.

god painted the shore dark with mussels, 
left the clams to sing wet and silent songs
out their long pale throats—
geoduck a heavy and golden trumpet. 

in the beginning, it was simple as this: 
gooseneck barnacles red as the mountain’s belly,
mountain purple as an oyster’s mouth,
oyster wrinkled as new bark,
madrona born green and green again.

god rinsed the sand from her hands in the tide, 
called the eel grass beautiful,
hung the bull kelp careful from the current’s line,
and the brackish world was light. 

 

REGENERATION // BLUE ANYWAY

if i were the nectarine i would die happy with your lips on me.

if heaven came i think it would come first to the salmon,
watching the top of the waterfall with faithful and frantic eyes
their whole lives leading to a moment of red on the shady shallows
some kind pine keeping the sun out of their eyes.
one last, small gesture.

if heaven came i think it would be deep as the creek
around our ankles and just as brown

the bugs in it spelling some indescribable message that

even in the last moments

we would never read

some small thing written in the way mountains talk, one
lupine on some impossible hill to the next on an equally
indescribable rock,

blue anyway.

how i mean to say this is that i fell in love with you drooling
onto your shoulder watching a documentary about mt. st. helens
budding and living and pink after all the grey

and you hadn’t thought i was any less beautiful

despite all the less beautiful things i do, just like how the salmon
do every non-beautiful action in the most precious and
sacred way

that you wish you could touch their bellies, learn the whole thing through a fingertip.

if i were the plum i would seed myself over and over
so i'd never have to not love you.

if i were the salmon i'd circle at sea so i'd never have to not
love you.

if i were the pine tree i would grow just into your sight lines
to cool your brow but never block the mountain
or the next one, or the one
near to that—

what i mean is that i love you, always

no matter the season or the hour or the pain. 
i'd expire in the small pebbles if it meant i saw you

once more, 
in the tree tops, shining into my round eye. 


CLAIR DUNLAP grew up just outside Seattle, Washington, and started writing at the age of six. She is the author of In the Plum Dark Belly (Beard Poetry 2016). Her work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Occulum, Hobart, Up the Staircase Quarterly, Noble / Gas Quarterly, Souvenir, and more. She currently lives in the Midwest and answers questions in an academic library. Twitter: @smallgourd.