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A Wreath to the Fish

Who is this fish, still wearing its wealth,
flat on my drainboard, dead asleep,
its suit of mail proof only against the stream?
What is it to live in a stream,
to dwell forever in a tunnel of cold,
never to leave your shining birthsuit,
never to spend your inheritance of thin coins?
And who is the stream, who lolls all day
in an unmade bed, living on nothing but weather,
singing, a little mad in the head,
opening her apron to shells, carcasses, crabs,
eyeglasses, the lines of fisherman begging for
news from the interior-oh, who are these lines
that link a big sky to a small stream
that go down for great things:
the cold muscle of the trout,
the shinning scrawl of the eel in a difficult passage,
hooked-but who is this hook, this cunning
and faithful fanatic who will not let go
but holds the false bait and the true worm alike
and tears the fish, yet gives it up to the basket
in which it will ride to the kitchen
of someone important, perhaps the Pope
who rejoices that his cook has found such a fish
and blesses it and eats it and rises, saying,
"Children, what is it to live in the stream,
day after day, and come at last to the table,
transfigured with spices and herbs,
a little martyr, a little miracle;
children, children, who is this fish?"

—Nancy Willard

from Water Walker, 1989
Alfred A. Knopf, Publishers, New York, NY

Copyright 2001 by Nancy Willard.
All rights reserved.

Reprinted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Publishers from Water Walker. Copyright 1989 by Nancy Willard. For further permissions information, contact Alfred A. Knopf, Publishers, 299 Park Avenue, New York, NY, 10171, phone 212-751-2600.

Poetry 180

About the Poet

Nancy Willard (1936- ) is the author 10 poetry collections, including Waves (Brighton, 2014). She is also the first recipient of a Newbery Medal for a volume of poetry.

Learn more about Nancy Willard at The Poetry Foundation.