Because they flicker like stars of the twelfth magnitude
and have come all the way from the Bering Sea
through the Gulf of Alaska up the glacier-gray water
of the Copper River and then curved their backs to the plunge
of the Hanagita where they rest now, or have fallen
half conscious into this small green pool
fringed with spruces and scrub grass, you may think
they know something about endurance. Loneliness. Hope.
Or even birth and rebirth, their journey’s reason.
When I stand with my shadow across the water
they are almost visible, finning in the place of my heart.
Then we bait our hooks and cast, lines floating out
toward the Wrangells, lures settling into the ripples
and riding downstream on a slant of September sunlight.
We do this one by one and one by one they wake up
to the transparent insect wing or the blackness
of raven down or the sweet round salmon egg.
They rise, are taken, and thrash — the bubbles silver,
the clouds of foam, hard runs over the gravel bottom.
All afternoon they are hooked and we let them go,
the same stunned fish over and over. We let them go.
Like all who desire and desire, they know nothing.

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