My Mother Worked on a Salmon Barge in Homer, Alaska

Aiden Baker

for a brief summer in 1986, mornings were spent taking
a knife to the bellies of fish, taking tweezer to pin bones
calcified nerve endings translucent, stubborn. she became
an expert at slicing through in one clean swish, separating
skin from flesh, leaving behind a sheet of scales
that shimmered like a disco ball dress and wow
she hated that job. the skin of her hands rejected
the fish, her flesh began to bubble, toil
trouble: she began growing sores, her fingernails
turning black, mottled brown, falling off
a med-evac copter whisked her away and
a doctor declared: an infection

wednesday nights growing up, she always
served salmon, always, and the smell
of it raw on the counter reminds me of her.
other smells that remind me of her: lilac
she once said was her favorite scent
and from then on, when i think of her:
purple. listerine, another
smell that screams mother
when the three of us girls got lice
she poured listerine on the tops of our heads and
trapped it beneath plastic caps, the alcohol
burning strong, burning our eyes
and later, while combing our hair, finding
the small translucent eggs, she said ah,
so that’s why they call it nit-picking
we were young, our scalps full of itch
and i didn’t know then, that was where love hid
not in the big sweeping gestures
but in the small: the pin-bones, the nits

About the Author

Aiden Baker is a writer and educator based in Berkeley, California. Her work can be found in Witness, The Ninth Letter, Newfound, and elsewhere.