Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Job #21

One summer a long time ago, I worked at a salmon cannery in southeastern Alaska. My job was to stand at a section of conveyer belt called the patch table, holding a large pair of scissors and grabbing can after can off the conveyer belt to trim the bits of bone and salmon flesh that jutted over the lip of the can. Grab and trim, grab and trim, 14 hours a day, seven days a week until the salmon run ended.

Standing with me at the patch table were Tlingit Indian women who worked with rapid, experienced movements and spoke only to each other. To pass the long, monotonous hours I tried to remember everything that had ever happened to me. I unraveled my life backward: And then? And then? I asked myself, as if I were story and storyteller both. Through my reverie I heard the Tlingits whispering in their language. There is no word in Tlingit for "I" and like a sleepwalker suddenly awakened I understood that their stories were about a world vast beyond my imagining, while my story was only about myself.

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