publishing poetry chapbooks

Monday's Poem

Marilyn Belak lives on the edge of Dawson Creek, Capital of the B.C. Peace River Region, Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway. Away from the garden she is the lone female City Councillor and a sometimes Community RN. Her favourite work has been the raising of two now grown children. She no longer fishes but hopes to spend time this summer sitting on the bank of a northern river and writing.

The Fishing Poem was published in The Malahat Review.

© Marilyn Belak

The Fishing Poem

what I wanted was
to write about catching the trophy fish

not about that long day

I spent on the shale bank beside the road
on the Tahltan river when my husband
and his father left at dawn
to fish      up the reserve
when they didn't come back until after dark

when my son was one
and napped all day while I watched

Grizzlies cross the bar downstream

when there was nowhere to walk but away
from my sleeping child or towards the bears
and I knew no cars or trucks would come until the road crew
returned from Telegraph to Dease that night

when by noon all the chores were done      even supper
ready to go on the campfire and I bathed the baby in the dishpan

I didn't want to say
that the travelling songs we belted
on the way hadn't prepared me for this

or to wonder
how the plan to take his Dad had changed
to taking a cook and her baby

I wanted to talk about
the icy water spinning under
the bridge—the silence of naked rock
and lichens—of solitude and wilderness

but the road turned away from my narrow
shoulder-camp on one side and curved over
the bridge on the other and forbidden
Indian lands stretched north forever

you see they took the truck and the gun
I can't remember

                      how it got decided
only the dumb surprise when they left

          and that it's odd

how I got used to the Grizzlies crossing
          heard kingfishers and the shsh-shsh shale made
          when I climbed the bank to check the baby
          to watch the gray river water boil
          white around bridge pilings

how late in the afternoon I decided
          to spin cast a straight hook for trout
          caught an eight pound Dolly and another
          and then a silver streak tore my line downstream
          spun through the air and dove for the bridge

how it was time to check my child
          and I didn't cut the line
          and half an hour later I told myself
          fifteen minutes and I would and later
          that if he cried I'd hear him

how after an hour the fight was maybe
          weaker and soon I would bring him in
          and every few minutes I thought the men
          or the crew would come

how when the rod snapped
          I wrapped the line over and over
          my right hand and braced
                 my feet behind a boulder
          got sprayed when he rose so close
          to shore      he flew over my head
          onto the bank and I didn't have a club

how I stunned him with a rock
          clutched him to my breast—stumbled
          up the bank and threw him on the road

          the sound he made leaping on the gravel

          while I dug for my knife
          grabbed him on his way over the edge
          drove it into his spine
          and with him scooped
          in my arms we slid back to the river

          I washed him and washed myself in his water

but what I really wanted to tell was

that when the road crew stopped by
I was drinking wine by the fire
while the supper cooked the baby played
and those guys weighed and measured and recorded
the Dollies and the Steelhead and listened
to my story
before they got the whisky from their truck
toasted me and sat to wait for the fishermen

          that in the end
          my Steelhead was nineteen pounds
          to their best fourteen

that I wore the good dress I had packed
for Vancouver, and firelight
flashed gold from my waist-long hair