This poem was first published in Ever Eden and then presented at “This too shall pass: Stories of hope, victory and community,” an Instagram Live event hosted by Ever Eden Publishing and Radiant magazine in order to comfort people during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
There is an old man with a long white beard that lives inside my chest.
He sits on my rib cage and with a wooden pole
calls to the fish in the frozen wasteland of my heart.
Each day he cuts a hole through its ice, and lowers his line while singing gospel.
He smokes a pipe as he does this.
The fish he pulls out are always frozen straight through.
Their eyes dead and open with cold.
I have tried telling him it is useless.
That it has been a millennium since anything breathed down there.
But he cuts through that ice every morning, singing gospel to himself.
Or maybe to the fish.
I have grown quite fond of him, even though he is a fool.
Sometimes I tell him stories of the wars that happened there long before he came.
How the cities turned to ash, and the trees grew afraid to grow.
How fields became deserts, and those deserts filled with rain
until they became lakes and then oceans.
How those oceans froze over, until nothing was left but the ice.
How sometimes I know that the ice will never be gone.
When I tell him these things he blinks slowly
And packs the tobacco in his pipe with his thumb.
I do not stop him from hoping.
Instead I sit back and listen to the dull hum of gospel inside my chest.
Like white noise it is always there,
a comforting buzz that lets me know I’m not alone.
One not so special day, I am washing a bowl of blueberries and it stops.
I think the fool has finally made his surrender to the ice.
That maybe in his defeat he’s preparing his return from where he came.
But when I find him, he is on his knees holding a small fish in his hands.
It wiggles gently as a soft orange glow shines faintly beneath the grey of its scales.
The old man places the fish gently on the ice
and turns so I can see the life that remains inside me.
I have never seen anything so beautiful.
The old man whispers to the fish and my chest grows soft like a baby’s belly.
And I watch the fish leap in the air and back into my heart
with the light of a hundred fireflies.
The old man takes up his pipe and dives after it.
I feel the bones of my rib cage tremble.
And though I can’t be sure
I can almost swear I hear the sound of water
rushing steady deep inside.