Salmon Boy


That boy was hungry. His mother gave him Dog Salmon,
Only the head. It was not enough,
And he carried it hungry to the river's mouth
And fell down hungry. Salt water came from his eyes,
And he turned over and over. He turned into it.

And that boy was swimming under the water
With his round eyes open. He could not close them.
He was breathing the river through his mouth.
The river's mouth was in his mouth. He saw stones
Shimmering under him. Now he was Salmon Boy.

He saw the Salmon People waiting. They said, "This water
Is our wind. We are tired of swimming against the wind.
Come to the deep, calm valley of the sea.
We are hungry too. We must find the Herring People."
And they turned their green tails. Salmon Boy followed.

He saw Shell-Walking-Backwards, Woman-Who-Is-Half-Stone.
He heard the long, high howling of Wolf Whale,
Seal Woman's laughter, the whistling of Sea Snake,
Saw Loon Mother flying through branches of seaweed,
Felt Changer turn over far down in his sleep.

He followed to the edge of the sky where it opens
And closes, where Moon opens and closes forever,
And the Herring People brought feasts of eggs,
As many as stars, and Salmon Boy ate the stars
As if he flew among them, saying Hungry, Hungry.

But the Post of Heaven shook, and the rain fell
Like pieces of Moon, and the Salmon People swam,
Tasting sweet, saltless wind under the water,
Opening their mouths again to the river's mouth,
And Salmon Boy followed, full-bellied, not afraid.

He swam fastest of all. He leaped in the air
And smacked his blue-green silvery side, crying, Eyo!
I jump! again and again. Oh, he was Salmon Boy!
He could breathe everything! He could see everything!
He could eat everything! And then his father speared him.

He lay on the riverbank with his eyes open,
Saying nothing while his father emptied his belly.
He said nothing when his mother opened him wide
To dry in the sun. He was full of the sun.
All day he dried on sticks, staring upriver.


David Wagoner, Traveling Light: Collected and New Poems, University of Illinois Press, 1999.