Crew Spotlight | Sierra Golden | A Fisheye Perspective

I’ve worked as a commercial fisherman for the last seven years.  My father is a SE Alaska seine skipper, though, and because of that, I grew up in the harbor and on the boat, as well as in the foothills of Mount Baker. I recently received my master’s degree in creative writing from North Carolina State University, and my work has focused widely on the commercial fisheries in Alaska.
Photographers use fisheye lenses to create images with strong visual distortion and a wider than normal perspective.  While the images produced are distorted, they can, in many ways, come closer to the “truth” of a situation, image, or story than a traditional image would allow.  My job as a writer is to be the fisheye lens of language, seeing the fisheries I love through a new lens that is critical and artistic.  I attempt to make my writing as visceral as the world in which I work, as visceral as the sound of a spoon scraping kidneys from a salmon’s spine, but I hope it’s also drawing connections between fishing and human experience, illuminating both the beauty and troubles of commercial fisheries for fishermen and non-fishermen alike.

My poems and essays appear widely in literary journals such as Fourth RiverCirque, and Mobius: The Journal of Social Change, as well as place-based anthologies about the Pacific Northwest.  I was the 2011 winner of the NCSU Academy of American Poets prize, and in March 2012, I’ll be a resident fellow with the Island Institute in Sitka, AK.


is empty these days, old

oak bar smoke stained and carved

all over with varnished names

and spidering cracks like scars.

Fading fake roses wilt

on the untuned piano

where I learned to play “Chopsticks”

and Chopin, sang soprano

for fishermen and cannery

workers after my bedtime.

Mother, holding a lime, would

scold me, head shaking, then mime

“just one more” over the crowd.

Men, rowdy, yelling for beer

would grin, call me dear, and leave

a coin or two heaped up here

on the piano bench. I’d

hide them in my small pink heart-

purse, sneaking one at a time,

making the big pile look sparse.

I’d dream of a real stage, save

all the sticky change, count it

each night, wondering how much

was enough for red velvet

curtains, but I found fast boys,

big joints, let the money run

through my fingers. Dust motes

drifting between piano

strings. When the snow fell, I wrote

my first love note, sipping hot

toddies by the pot-belly stove.

I overflowed my heart. I sought

love in a snowman’s cold kiss.

Skunk cabbage unfurled, black bears

nipping them off near the mist

drenched ground. Then, the first bad year:

the cannery closed. Yet, boats

would float in anyway. Night

after night, skippers sat moored

on tall red stools till daylight.

I learned to slosh out whiskey

and gin, fry crisp fish and chips,

but each summer I order

less liquor, feed fewer lips.

The last folks—famous Rose too

(my tough-bucktoothed-bartending-

mom)—are far away, have since

slipped away. I wince and bend,

pull a small string. The hot pink

tubes and links of neon light

flicker, fight shadows, and then,

are wrenched into the sinking night.


Fourth of July in Pelican, AK

The poster reads: Teeny-Weenie Contest.

I tack it on top of ragged old fliers, corners flapping

in a stiff breeze. This one is glossy, bright like new shoes

or copper penny nails at the local hardware.

Covered in red, white, and blue stars,

it’s “the big deal” around this fish-town, so don’t go

thinking dirty thoughts. It’s all fun and games

and, truth be told, the Fourth of July needs every teeny-weenie

bit of excitement teeny-peenies can muster up.

“Dying Town Loves Sex” headlines the paper in Juneau;

that tourist-trap town of Princess Cruise Line jewelry stores

likes to joke our top prize is the biggest truck in town,

but Pelican is a boardwalk row of shanties built on stilts

above the tide. Not a single road. We just want to see the little guy

win big for once.


“Rose’s” first appeared in The Fourth River, vol. 9, 2012, and that “Fourth of July in Pelican, AK,” first appeared in Cirque, vol. 2, issue 2, 2011.


  1. I heard the sound as I read the line: “spoon scraping kidneys from a salmon’s spine…” I feel every bit of the reality in your writing! My sisters & I used to hear the triangle bell ring for lunch & run down to the galley door of the cannery in Craig. We would knock on the screen door & when the cook with a shiny bald head (I always thought he was the Mr. Clean guy) came to greet us, we methodically said in tune: “Cookie man, can we have a cookie?! Please?!” -now it is a ghastly place & I have saved strips of the bright teal colored paint that is peeling off the window sills.. Alaska past is a wonderful place..

  2. For those of you who remember Carl Aspelund aka “Uncle Carl” of Ward Cove Cannery in Craig, he is not doing well… he’s fighting cancer but spirits are high. His wife is in a Nursing Home suffering from Alzheimers, his sister is with him. He’d probaby appreciate a call, note or card: 509 965-0894 – 506 N. 56th Ave, Yakima, WA 98908

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