By Nicole Walker
The fish jumped a ladder built of electricity and concrete. Swimming
up the Columbia is a lesson in progress. Even before the dam, the waterfalls
would have battered her forefathers. The rocks would have packed a wallop,
broken the skin, bruised the flesh. Now the flesh starts bruised, already
whaled on by 40-pounds-per-inch spray kept narrow and forceful by the
steel holes boring through 200 feet of cement. The water directs her
toward the spillway. She directs her body against the current.
All the roe she had to hoe.
Eggs were flying out of her tubes like baseballs out
of a firing range. Follicular. Funicular. She looked at the cables of
fire streaming above her. Follicles polishing those little apples.
Apple of her eye. Her silver skin turning apple-skin—ripening. Dying.
Water polishing the concrete to a smooth, slippery,
no holds, no nook, no rub step.
She flipped her body up the next.
Ten more flights to go.
Share a step with another salmon.
She had swum by him a while ago.
Now he swims in circles.
She has to jump over him as well as the stair.
Head over fin.
I am 11 years old and holding on to a fishing pole, trolling for big
fish in the deep water off Florida’s coast. I must have been beautiful
then. Three grown men stand around me. One with a stubbly beard lifts
my feet and places them in the hold. To hold on. To get leverage. To
The other man, with a pair of sunglasses on his face and another on
a pair of chums around his neck, holds my hand, folds it around the
handle of the reel.
My father stands to my left, cheering me on.
Don’t let it go. It’s huge. Hold on tight.
Sunglass man pulls my hand toward my body, then out to sea. Following
the turbines of the engine. Circling.
The fish, as it jumps out of the water, arches its back. It looks stubbly-faced
man in the eyes.
Sunglass man holds the fish. Stubbly man hits it over the head.
No one eats 48-inch barracuda.
They throw it in the cooler anyway.
Cooking filets of fish is not complicated. Salt and pepper the fish.
Press the water out of the skin with a knife. Slide it across at a 20
degree angle. In the pan, in some oil, two minutes on the skin side,
one minute on the flesh.
It’s the sauce that’s difficult.
First you need an herb rarely paired with food, like rue or lavender
Sometimes green tea. Or use demi glace.
Then you need an emulsion. One stick of butter per dinner party. OK,
Reduce the green tea or lobster body fish stock. Or warm the demi glace.
Strain through a chinois. Strain through cheese cloth. Strain one more
time for good measure.
With a steel whip, turn in a cube of butter. Don’t let it melt. Emulsify
means “to make one.”
Make the reduction open up and hook elbows with a molecule of the fat.
Water and oil don’t mix, my ass. Water and oil are the same thing, if
you whisk fast enough and if you add the butter slowly.
Puddle the emulsion in the middle of the plate.
Pile under the fish some truffled risotto, some roasted potatoes, some
chard wilted in wine.
For color add citrus or tomatoes or little dices of carrot, strewn around
Let the fish rest for a minute or so. To re-distribute the juices. To
firm the flesh. Do not let the fish get cold.
is currently pursuing her Ph.D. at the University of Utah where she
teaches and is the editor of Quarterly West magazine. Her work
has appeared in “Emerging Writers” issue of Ploughshares, Black
Warrior Review, Margie: an International Journal of Poetry, New American
Writing, Barrow Street, Bellingham Review, Seneca Review, Salt Hill,
Elixir and the Iowa Review among others.
photo by Dinty W. Moore