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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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That place where ghosts of salmon jump

Sherman Alexie

Coyote was alone and angry because he could not find love. No.

Coyote was alone and angry because he demanded love, demanded a wife

from the Spokane, the Coeur d’Alene, the Palouse, all those tribes

camped on the edge of the Spokane River, and received only laughter.

So Coyote rose up with his powerful and senseless magic

and smashed a paw across the water, which broke the river bottom

in two, which created rain that lasted for forty days and nights

and which created Spokane Falls, that place where salmon travelled

more suddenly than Coyote dreamed, that place where salmon swam

larger than any white man imagined, but Coyote, I know you broke

the river because of love. I saw you catch salmon on the Falls

after you had created them. I know you slept, all fat and happy

beside the river, and pretended it was all done by your design.

Coyote, you’re a liar and I don’t trust you. I never have

but I do trust all those stories the grandmothers told me

They said the Falls were built because of your unrequited love

and I can understand that rage, Coyote. We can all understand

but look at the Falls now and tell me what you see. Look

at the Falls now, if you can see beyond all the concrete

the white man has built here. Look at all of this

and tell me that concrete ever equals love. Coyote

these white men don’t always love their own mothers

so how could they love this river which gave birth

to a thousand lifetimes of salmon, how could they love

these Falls, which have fallen farther, which sit dry

and quiet as a graveyard now. These Falls are that place

where ghosts of salmon jump, where ghosts of women mourn

their children who will never find their way back home

where I stand now and search for any kind of love

where I sing softly, under my breath, alone and angry.

This poem was commissioned as public art for Spokane’s downtown library. The poem’s author, Sherman Alexie, is a a member of the Spokane and Coeur d’Alene Indian tribes and has written nationally recognized novels, short stories and poetry.

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