Featured Prose Spring 2021

The Salmon Season Gets Shorter and Shorter Every Year

When my father was twenty years old, the same age I am now, he took a summer job at a fishing plant and cannery halfway down the Aleutian Islands in Chignik, Alaska. The youngest of ten children, my dad began shipping himself out of his hometown of Spokane, Washington in the summers when he was seventeen. He first followed his older brothers Matthew and David to a chuckwagon ranch at the base of the Tetons in Jackson Hole, and then on up to Alaska, where Matthew worked on the boats and David ran the processing plant at the Aleutian Dragon Fishing Company. His age wasn’t an issue. By the tenth kid, my grandparents didn’t know how old he was, and they didn’t care.

There’s only one photo in our house from my dad’s time in Alaska. The picture itself is blurry, and my dad looks caught off guard, maybe mid-sentence. The background is all muted greys and whites; low and boxy concrete warehouses line the back of the dock and mountains dusted in snow rise sharply behind the buildings. The foreground is all yellow, my dad dressed in a floor-length rain slicker with a hood. His strawberry blond hair, which these days grows thick and long, is closely cut and mostly covered by a yellow ball cap. In the photo, you can’t read the words on the hat, but I know that it says “Aleutian Dragon Fishing Company” because my mom still has it. She wears it with her own floor-length yellow rain slicker, a gift from my dad on their first wedding anniversary.

My dad says that my Uncle David took the photo, and he knows that it’s early May because they’re out on the docks and not in the processing warehouses. This means it’s the twenty-four hour opening of the halibut season when the fishermen’s permits line up with the halibut spawning and they can catch hundreds of thousands of pounds of fish in a single day. The Chignik plant’s bread and butter was salmon — ten-pound red sockeye salmon in the early summer and forty-pound king salmon starting in August — but in late spring there was a sliver of halibut season. Since Alaskan halibut can be seven feet long and 500 pounds, the fish didn’t fit in the warehouses and the processing was done right on the docks. They’d hold the fish up on a gaff hook and use a machete to hack off its head, just below the eyeballs. They’d have to take turns, and my dad’s job was to re-sharpen the blades in between rounds.

My Uncle David started at the ADF Chignik plant when he was twenty-one and has worked in the Alaskan fishing industry ever since, though his job these days deals more with dwindling populations and plummeting fishery health. In the late 80s, he was in charge of recruiting college kids to work at the plant. He started with his brothers, which is how my dad got roped into the job, but he also recruited at college parties, convincing drunk Washington State students to sign contracts that they wouldn’t remember in the morning. My dad told me that his brother lured him to Chignik with the promise of adventure and the chance to make what was advertised as “a fuck ton of money.” He did, but only because in Chignik, you kept working as long as fish kept coming in, and back in the 80s, the fish never stopped coming in.

In the photo, there are a bunch of trough-sized metal bins full of severed fish heads over my dad’s left shoulder. The insides of the bins are smeared with the same blood staining his rain slicker, which never came out no matter how many times they washed and replaced the gear. The plant workers used to toss the heads into the bay to chum for marine life, but the fishermen (who were all Alaskan Natives — Aleuts, mostly — and passed Chignik Bay fishing permits down their families for generations) told them that the silver-dollar-sized cheeks were the freshest, most succulent flesh of the fish, so the plant workers saved the heads for the fishermen to take home in exchange for beer.

The Chignik plant processed fish twenty-four hours a day for five months in the summer, and the kids who worked at the plant often had shifts of up to sixteen hours with breaks for meals. They slept in bunkhouses where they hung blankets over the windows because it was sunny for twenty-one hours a day. For the first two summers my dad worked on “the slime line,” beheading and gutting salmon as they wound down a conveyor belt in a wet, freezing concrete warehouse. To entertain themselves, they listened to 80s rock mixtapes (he laughed when I asked if they had CDs) and flung fish hearts at each other — five points if you hit your buddy in the face and three points for every minute that he resisted the urge to wipe the guts off his eyebrow. Respect was earned around the eight-minute mark. My dad volunteered to work the overnight shifts because he made double the money and got to see his brother Matthew when the fishing boats dropped off supplies from Anchorage. On those nights, he lived on coffee, Copenhagen chewing tobacco, and Snickers bars while a half-sun washed dusk over the landscape at two in the morning.

They usually showered every day, but sometimes you were so tired that you took off your bloody rain gear and boots and fell into bed. They played pranks on each other and made ridiculous bets and swore off eating fish for the rest of their lives. Once, he and his friend Todd made a bet as to who could go the longest without showering, and they marked the days on their bodies in Sharpie. My dad won $100 off Todd for going twelve days. Five years after their last summer in Chignik, Todd confided that he had in fact showered on Day Six and re-Sharpied his body. My dad forgave him.

They played poker for days on end and once in a blue moon got an off day to go into town (two streets, single-wide trailers, and a dirt landing strip). There was a woman who sold baked goods out of her trailer and remembered the boys who returned summer after summer. The sole restaurateur of Chignik, she made about $30k a summer selling bread to the fishermen and donuts to my dad and his friends.

After three summers in Jackson Hole and three summers in Alaska (two and a half in Chignik and then a couple months spent helping clean up the ‘89 Exxon Valdez oil spill after a falling out with an asshole boss at the processing plant), my dad once again followed his brothers to Colorado, where he felled trees with some guys he met in Alaska and then worked at a ski repair shop and cobblery, which is where he met my mom. Uncle David kept trading fish for a living. Uncle Matthew went on to accumulate more adventures and hone his storytelling craft. My dad made him my godfather, in hopes that I’d pick up one of those gifts. I’m almost twenty-one and I wonder when I’ll be shoulders deep in fish guts with the nerve to tell stories about it. My mom still has the yellow hat and slicker, and when my dad goes out of town, we eat salmon for dinner.

Author’s father in Chignik, Alaska, 1986.
Featured Poetry Spring 2021



 “Some are transformed just once
 And live their whole lives after in that shape.
 Others have a facility
 For changing themselves as they please.”

 They talk about mothers turning into stones,
 hunters turning into stags but rarely speak
 of individuals changing within themselves;
 just souls inhabiting different bodies.

 So tell me, what is a myth?


 When I was a toddler, tucked into bed and refusing
 to give in to slumber, my mother would instruct
 me to pick two objects with which she’d create
 a story from scratch. The curtain and the clock.

 The pillow and the dresser. Lacking
 creativity, I would recycle my choices
 based on what was currently in view;
 there is only so much one can see

 from a supine position in a bedroom.
 Still, my mother would lie beside me
 and bring these objects to life, giving voice
 to the curtains who wished the clock would halt

 his noisy ticking, the dresser who existed 
 in eternal envy of the pillow that had frequent
 interaction with me. The tales awakened
 rather than sedated me.

 Is that a myth — making the inanimate animate?


 A body can turn into another body
 without external transformation —
 I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it when I went from feeding
 myself one year to needing help the next —

 on the outside everything looked the same.
 I’ve seen it when I went from one day sitting
 unsupported to the next day needing a chest strap
 to keep me from falling forward, constantly —

 still my body looked the same. And I’ve seen it
 when my best friend went from helping me
 one minute to being awarded for it the next —
 this is the moment I was perhaps most transformed,

 when the difference between others and me,
 that veil they speak of, revealed itself
 for the first time — my body was exactly, exactly
 the same. I remain in that shape, even now.


 And when at elementary school we began
 to create drama, snickering at boys and whispering
 about crushes, it was not long before I could name
 for each of my friends at least one if not two boys

 who were in love with them. Joey brought Hannah
 a stingray stuffed animal on Valentine’s day
 (stingrays were Hannah’s favorite). Steven professed
 his undying love for Hayley right in front of my eyes.

 Then one day, while brushing my hair,
 my mother told me someone had a crush on me.
 My best friend Lauren had said so to her mom.
 But why hadn’t Lauren told me herself?

 At age seven I was more saddened by the idea
 that my mother felt the need to mythologize
 a figure who fancied me than by the thought
 of lacking a secret admirer altogether.

 Is that a myth — a claim that may never be verified?


 Actaeon stumbles upon the naked Diana
 then finds himself not man but stag.
 Where can we place the blame? On the hunter who took
 aimless steps through the woods? On the goddess,

 defending herself in a world full of rape and terror?
 Is this what defines a myth —
 when a character is transformed
 as a punishment for something beyond their own control?

 If these things are so, perhaps my body
 is a transformation myth. The way it carries my soul,
 making the inanimate animate. The way it is at once
 changed and ever-changing, determined by the neurons

 that survive within it (a kind of punishment, it feels,
 on some days). The way I will never
 truly know why, oh why, it was made this way,
 or whether it even exists: such a thing as a disabled body.

 Opening quote from Ted Hughes’s Tales from Ovid
Featured Poetry Winter 2021

Oregon Muslim

One day in this life, insha’Allah,
I want to leave the train in Marrakech 
or Istanbul and listen to the adhan 
as it soars from morning minarets.
I want to sleep with the city in the day
when the shops are shut on Ramadan time
and wake with her when the night begins
to shake hands and sing — to pray for peace
and give thanks for three sips of water
and a date.

I want to kneel 
shoulder to shoulder with sibling strangers 
and put my forehead to the masjid floor,
grateful for a chance to be better
and a path to walk on my journey home.
I will give salaams to the people in the street,
to the pilgrims and porch cats
sitting below windowsill flowers. 

Until then, alhamdulillah,
I will be here 
at the other end of this world
with my hands in the rain-blessed soil 
of this garden mosque, 
content to praise Allah by watching
the snow peas spiral towards
the top of the fence post,
or heaven. 
Featured Poetry Winter 2021

to grow old

Life is a short thing, the flies that
          buzz around my room will 
stop their droning gaggle in a day
          a day or two, anyway.

The large gourd-shaped hulk who
          bellows beneath the depths has
over 200 years, that lucky thing and
          when my son tugs at my 

pant leg, and asks me why my
           hair starts to look like the
feeling of a key ring, silver and
          weighed down by things,
I read him a book about whales and
          hope that he will not ask
how many whale lives I have left
          but how many fly lives I have.

Life is a long thing, when starfish
          lose limbs, it’s usually just
because they’re a little warm, it’s
          their small discarded sweater

but when I get a little warm at night, 
          my body shoved by invisible
currents, I sit in the cavity of the couch
          eyes falling like stars from

when I used to stay up all night and it was
          an act of joy, instead of a lonely,
slow-moving river that just pushes me
          towards when that orange strobe

rises above the water line, when my eyes
          clench from its brilliance and the bones
in my body have not fallen off like the starfish,
          they have never felt so weighted.

Life is a short thing, because the
          macaroni penguins, they mate
for life, and my son and I were watching 
          discovery channel discuss Antarctica,

a place that feels like running out of time,
          at the end of the world, something
like me, and he turned to me and said that he wished 
          I were a penguin so I didn’t have to be 

alone. I said I’m not alone, I have you.
          And he smiled the same smile from when
he visited his first zoo and said “I have 
          you too” and the narrator talked on.
Featured Poetry Winter 2021

A Summer Love Story

Five weeks after we met
          two weeks after we'd been living
together, in heaving heat, he walked me to the train station.
We saw the Acropolis along the way, the ruin cliffed
in high sky. He carried my backpack, my five weeks humped
behind his shoulders. At a crossroad he peeled
his hand from mine and gave me

a paper bag — What is this, I’d asked, and he said, as if he would
every day for many years, for when you get hungry.
          Honey sandwich and apple. We passed
narrow train tracks, where trains sometimes came, ducked
station turnstiles that have not worked in months. We sat in silence

           and when my train came,
air splattered against me like paint. We turned to each other, he pressed
my head into his wet chest, my heart between his stomach and his hand.
          I think I’ve said all I want to say, he said and

          into his chest I told him, he who had said he did not love me,
          I love you

 through the window I saw him, standing,
the train moved, I went back
to not knowing him, what we grew

          mile by mile. 
Featured Poetry Winter 2021

First Tuesday

Pops and crackles on God’s gray Earth
herald men and their tires, balding in unison,
leaning back and over pebbles in the gravel lot,
and coughing dust hot behind them.

and I, in a low cinderblock building
with a veil of sunlight spotlighting dirt and dust
feather-falling to the linoleum,
watch through a grime clouded storefront
while the radio beside me and a fly
far off somewhere, ducking behind rows of dusty snacks
struggle to see who can drone the loudest

the bell above the door announces guests:
farmers caked in clay nod toward loose cigarettes
our hesitant exchange strung together by broken words in the other’s language.

and a gray-haired man that could be my father
all knobbed joints and trembling fingers
scrapes daily at a lotto ticket with a filthy coin
that matches a lonely tooth gleaming in his face
like watery eyes looking at something far off

he leaves even poorer and above the door,
a stroke of orange at dusk paints the bell
and I hit the jackpot every time 
Featured Poetry Winter 2021


When we moved in, my parents
thought the tree in our backyard was dead
or dying; its peeling bark evoked
an ear of corn not quite shucked,
a natural edge run ragged.

We would soon learn
that the shagbark hickory is not born
with shag in its bark; but grows
into it. It is the story of age
as paring knife, bark
as shed skin.

I let my first whitehead ripen
until my mother snipped pus fruit
off the vine with flesh
between pinched fingers,
a pop.

This is how rite became passage
of time, and how I could not help
but pick and poke and prod and pop
each bump, raze what was raised
into submission,
into scar.

Keep squeezing after all the pus is out,
just to be sure, or just
so that a steady drip of blood
may follow. Two birds, smooth
your face and yourself,
one faucet running red.

There is a beetle in my sink.
It scuttles out of the drain so rapidly
I can imagine the ratatattat of legs
on porcelain. The urgency
of an ugly thing.

We know each other, beetle
and I, beetle who could crawl
into an oversized pore and shimmy
under my skin, hatch eggs in my cheek
and excrete itself in pus.
An ugliness that can spiral
back down the drain.

When we moved in, my parents
thought the tree in our backyard was dead
or dying, and so peeling bark was tempting
for idle hands to pry off. To leave a scar
behind: a reddish-gray gash,
a nakedness.

When Caliban looked in the glass
did he too see Ham? Are there pimples on the cheeks
of forests? The beetle living under my skin
laughs at me. No, it says. And still
they grow. 
Featured Poetry Winter 2021

When the Car Stops in Gambier, Ohio

Lumped silence until the intersection,
where the car sputters
beneath your feet.
Next to the faded yellow line you stop,
pull out a flashlight, open
the hood bonnet. We stand like the earth is eggshell,
we don’t move, we shoulder a wet black sky

like we are afraid to wake it up. Your arm touches mine
and I am afraid to wake you from this daze, the same daze you had

when we found her. Mother, an accident sprawled horizontal
next to a bottle. We left her muscles to die — when

should they be left to die? You and I stood, unable to touch mother —
she might regret her last violence
to the world, a big whopping fuck-
you. Now she lay

as still as a painting, we were the viewers, we were
the critics, I stared and felt ashamed for it,
like I was watching her undress.

Then she was peeled
from the floor, all five feet lifted
into arms of men neither you
nor I knew and she slid away
to a world where we have not lived. 
Featured Poetry

Eagle 20’s

When we kiss, our nose rings turn inside out
and my glasses leave an imprint on both our faces.
You don’t ask questions when you find me on the porch,
my nose and my mascara running. You light a cigarette
and give me the first go. You don’t complain
when I run through half the pack by myself
(even though you’ll want one when you wake up).
At the bottom of the steps, a possum pads past us
and I can’t help but laugh. So, you laugh with me,
through the night, through every blow
we’ve had to take on our own:
the four times you broke your left arm; my long black hair,
cut off along with the abuse; your nose, crooked
by the hand of an old oil rigger, that still bleeds when you crack it.
It’s 6:44AM when I finally pull the covers to my chest.
The smell of smoke still strong on my fingers
and the birds already too loud.
I lie awake another thirty minutes,
even though I have class in four hours.
I walk to the gas station at the end of the street,
to buy you as many cartons of cigarettes as you could want,
my pajama pants tilted to one side by the weight of my wallet.