Dec. 8, 1992

Celilo Falls

Just down the big river, past
the Bridge of the Gods,
Chief So-Happy's grandchildren
sell the illegal fish
of a broken treaty. Forty years
beneath the Columbia, before
the dam that cooled the river's fire,
and brought the apathy of lakes,
the Salmon People drew their fish from
Celilo Falls. A fault had pushed
the river back and forced
its rushing water down
shelves and steps of rock. Here
they built their platforms, each one
the whole inheritance of families. Perched
like Great Blue Herons on long wooden
legs and crossed boards, three feet
above the singing rapids and
fifty feet from shore, the men would wait
for the fish to jump the falls.
With a quick dip and drag
of the net, they divided the fish
from water; dripping, gasping. Twenty
dollars passed beneath a hand
and a bright rose-silver salmon
would appear in the trunk
of a car, still twisting from
the sharp in-rush of air, still
awaiting the return of the river.

© Jessica Minier Mabe