North Along Dalton Highway
A man in salmon wears strung bone.
When he walks, he eddies dust.
Fossil-crusted, all gravel.
Etches a line with his heel
to know he’s crossed into
the Arctic Circle.
In a motel room,
distressed trucks in Polaroid
pinned to cork: a sequence
of long haul trucks pushing
through snow-slick; here,
pipes wiggle and fishtail
into a weed-strewn ditch.
Tire-torn, snarls of rubber.
Moose antlers discarded
atop an old Pepsi machine.
Whitewashed socks patching insulation
gawp from slats in the ceiling.
Upstream, a humpbacked
tent village the color
of butterflies and moths.
Gentle voices, wet canvas.
Sun slope, a tease,
but no horizon touched.
Spit of fire in Deadhorse, lit with
tundra swans. This hotel,
converted oil workman’s barracks,
once moneyed mattresses,
lights the kind that hum.
You see them like sparks, little flushes
of bright water, the slurry of tails
in a stream. They slap against the surface
as you might smack hand to thigh,
a punctuation in thought. When salmon leap,
it is their bodies pushing back
against the current. Silver-scaled
and brave, they must thrust up the falls,
past maws of slow-jawed bears,
giving a fishy snarl in triumph. What it must
be like to molt between saltwater and fresh,
to trade one lung for another
in one round gulp, the scrim of brackish estuary
turnstiling the empty-bellied, then egg-fat.
In the quiet end, body-vibrancy fushias up
in the stony hedge, pink pellets settling
into the spine of rock, those mothers
and fathers tilting their scales, winking out,
slow loll in the shallows.
Molly Sutton Kiefer is the author of the full-length lyric essay Nestuary (Ricochet Editions). She has published three poetry chapbooks, and has work in Orion, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Passages North, The Rumpus, Tupelo Quarterly, Fiddlehead Review, Ecotone, South Dakota Review, and The Collagist, among others. She is publisher at Tinderbox Editions and founder of Tinderbox Poetry Journal. She lives in Minnesota with her family where she teaches.