Poems by Penelope La Montagne

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Chinook Coming Home

by Penelope La Montagne

From Canary Winter 2011-12

Penelope lives on the banks of the Russian River between Del Rio and Camp Rose just east of Healdsburg, California. She has learned most of what she knows from watching the river, in all her moods, flow by.

Slapping their way through nature’s bath water
sea lion and great white in their rear view,
salt water still purging as they advance
in a mystical mitochondrial alignment
they come frothing in the shallows
facing off with water’s potent wisdom
vaulting themselves into jagged uncertain
winter creeks in upcountry backyards
to set a constellation of eyeballs
into the gravel bed that finally
dams them in too and becomes
an altar of reddened flesh,
while the garnet bark
of western dogwood
stands witness to the ritual

They come undone and in their slipstream
the eagle long since missing from these parts
the sight of him snags our breath
those wide wings the bullet body
the single focus the waiting banquet
the seduction of his winning pose
distracts us from the mass grave
drenched in new world crimson.
the last golden leaves of willow create
a shroud of calico light flickering

They come undaunted into our midst
showing us what is savory and wild
in us around us about us – chinook
swimming up from the beginning of time


*The headlines of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, November 14, 2002, touted the return of 5200 chinook salmon counted passing under the Wohler Bridge over the Russian River, on the way to their breeding grounds upstream. Chinook were thought not to be native to this area because of their prolonged absence, until DNA tests showed that this area is indeed home territory for them.

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