Meagan Graves


My father is a marine biologist,
So we grew up with legends of fish, their silvery bodies
Swimming sleek through water like parted glass.
He studies salmon, so we made the yearly pilgrimage 
To Bonneville, where sturgeon rest like silent giants in their pool
And where salmon fight in concrete beds and struggle through ladders.
That is how I remember them: fiery red and thrashing in a manmade lake,
Competing for food pellets flung from a six-year-old’s chubby fist.

It was only later that I found out how they die:
Their lives in the ocean, breathing in salt
Abruptly close 
As they journey back down their natal streams into their childhood rivers.
To dig holes in the riverbed for their redds
To spawn perfect eggs
To die upon the nursery’s door
So that they may nurture the earth they owe fealty to.

No one knows how they know their way, what 
Biological instinct guides them back to their roots 
As bodies whither and food is abandoned.
I drive along the winding gorge to my childhood home
And wonder what it must be like
To wake with the knowledge of one’s grave—to taste it in one’s teeth.

When salmon swim home do they hear execution drums
Or the roar of flickering lifeblood
Competing with the rush of the water? 
Do they know they are about to die?
Their bones sinking into the smooth rocks amongst their pearlescent young,
Or do they only know the familiar weight inside them, that soaring right-wrongness
Of returning to a place you can only remember?

On the highway, the rain pours its cacophony along the cement stream.
I only have an hour left to go
Until the cityscape swells and I walk through that once familiar door,
And maybe it feels like this.

Meagan Graves is a writer from Portland, Oregon, and is the recipient of the 2022 Michael and Gail Gurian Writing Award for Poetry. Through poetry, prose, and playwriting, she explores the themes of home and connection. Meagan is currently completing a degree in English and Communication Studies at Gonzaga University.

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