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a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society

Vivian Faith Prescott


Artists Reimagine a Habitat

Vulnerable salmon embryos in a streambed

are scoured, scraped, and washed,

with current and temperature,

 

wiping away our footprints with springmelt

and midsummer flow.

I see you weaving

 

this state into words, and shaping and threading

salmon bones on a dress,

carving cedar and yew,

 

painting the hollows of orbitals, even.

You dance in the dress,

finger the pages of the poem,

 

pull strands of human hair through the forehead

of the ceremonial mask.

Fragments

 

of fins and blood, a minute scent of all

our creations remain.

 

You can still taste their flesh.


Offering Sites

Beach below fishcamp—

seawall, whale-tail rock, stone steps,

any boulder will do.

 

I build a large ring of stones and the tide washes over it.

 

In ancient days we left iron arrows,

porridge, tobacco, a reindeer antler

and fish bones.

 

Taboo: Do not dig in the earth—do not reveal hidden objects.

 

I’ve offered my father’s broken filet knife blade,

a handful of Labrador tea, sprigs of fireweed

tied with string.

 

The authenticity of place resides in the stories and current beliefs.

 

Now, we make offerings for the salmon,

of salmon: scales like fingernails,

fish eggs in membrane, the gill raker.

 

My Elder father and I sit on our deck overlooking

the sea—gauging winter’s snowfall,

and like a noaide,

 

my father traces stream networks with his hand,

drawing our witness through the warm spring air.

 

 

 

 

*Noiade: Sámi traditional healer and seer.


Salmon in My Skull

Bright flashes of silver-scaled light—after I fell at the bottom of my seawall stairs. This is how it is to die, I thought, believing in the oldest ceremony behind the eyes. But I don’t go to the emergency room—there are more virus cases. Lately, my pain travels its own bathymetry—on seabed, across seafloor—my water body finding well-traveled pathways, where losses wade into a blood barrier older than the tide. These are new emotions I’m experiencing, though, as I shelter here beside the sea, as I count the dead across thousands of cycloid, smooth-rimmed scales, recording everything in radial striations and scalloping.

These days, I often turn toward any sound-threat, a car rolling tires across my graveled driveway, a child hollering on a bike, a morning jogger. Leaning against my fish cleaning table, now, I name these feelings: “broken circuli” and “lifecycle grief.” With the swivel of wrist, a finger on the plastic handle and steel blade, I bend the scar on my forefinger and rip gills. This king salmon, the one we caught trolling through dawn-light shadows, despite days of torrential rain, despite awaiting the fisheries area shutdown, despite the scale-shape of hunger, and all the dying and dying. We have this. This salmon. We have this.

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Vivian Faith Prescott was born and raised in Tlingit Aaní in Wrangell, Ḵaachx̱ana.áakʼw, a small island in Southeast Alaska, where she lives and writes at her family’s fishcamp. She works as a climate witness, documenting climate change in Alaska through poetry, stories, and art. She’s a member of the Pacific Sámi Searvi and is a founding member of Blue Canoe Writers and Community Roots, the first LGBTQIA group on the island. She’s the author of several poetry collections, a book of linked stories, and a foodoir about life at her fishcamp. Along with her daughter, Vivian Mork Yéilk’, she co-hosts the popular Planet Alaska Facebook page and they share a byline writing for their award-winning column, Planet Alaska, at the Capital City Weekly/Juneau Empire.

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