When the young salmon burst their eggs wide, gorge
on their mothers’ death, they swallow down the contract
all daughters sign sooner or later, trading life for the sweet,
sick meat of sacrifice. The taste of it lines the stomach for years.
They are grateful for it, crave it even. But always the bones
with their watery flesh, always the vague egg memory
of her generous form circling round and around, flesh fading
from red to white as she waited to die, as her children waited
to be born. And now, in the far ocean, my belly empty of eggs,
I have no reason to return to the fresh water, to duplicate her suffering.
Even if I were swollen with daughters, even then, I might betray
the cycle, release them to the sea, knowing they would die.
Alice Pettway is the author of three books of poetry: The Time of Hunger (2017), Moth (2019), and Station Lights (forthcoming 2021), all from Salmon Poetry. Her poems have appeared in Colorado Review, AGNI, Poet Lore, The Southern Review, The Threepenny Review, and elsewhere. She lives and writes in Shanghai. (updated 4/2020)