Here at Woodlands, Moriah,
these thirty-five years later,
still I could smell her fear.
Then, the huddled hills would not have
calmed her, now as they do me.
Then, the view did not snatch
the panting breath, now, as it does
these thirty-five years later, to the day,
I relive the journey of my salmon mother.
This salmon woman of Woodlands, Moriah
took the sharp hook of death
in her mouth, broke free and beat
her way upstream, uphill; spurned
all but the challenge of gravity,
answered the silver call of the moon,
danced to the drag and pull of the
tides, fate a silver thorn in her side,
brought her back here to spawn with
the hunchbacked hills humping the horizon,
under a careless blue sky.
My salmon father now talks of how
he could walk over there, to those same hills,
and think and walk some more with his dreams,
then that he had,
now lost and replaced.
His father (was he salmon?)
weighted him with the millstones of
a teacher’s certificate, a plot of land
(believed them milestones to where he hadn’t been),
that dragged him downstream to the ocean.
Now, he and his salmon daughter
face those same huddled, hunchbacked hills.
She a millstoned lawyer, his milestone
to where he hadn’t been.
He pulls her out, a blood rusted weapon,
to wield against his friends
“This, my daughter, the lawyer!”
She takes her pound of dreams neat,
no blood under that careless blue sky,
suggests he wear a sign around his neck,
“My Daughter IS a Lawyer,”
and drives the point home,
quod erat demonstrandum.
But I will be salmon.
Wasn’t it for this he made the journey
downstream, my salmon father?
Why then do I insist on swimming
against the tide, upstream,
leaping, jumping, flying floating,
hurling myself at under, over,
around all obstacles, backwards
in time to the spawning
grounds of knotted dreams?
My scales shed, I am Admiral red,
but he, my salmon father, will not
accept that I too am salmon,
whose fate it is to swim against the time,
whose lodestar is to be salmon.
This is called salmon courage my dear father,
and when I am all spawned out
like the salmon, I too must die —
but this child will be born,
must be born salmon.
“Salmon Courage” by M. NourbeSe Philip, from Salmon Courage. Copyright © 1983 by M. NourbeSe Philip. Reprinted by permission of the author.
Source: Revival: An Anthology of the Best Black Canadian Writing (McClelland & Stewart, 2006).