Gregory O’Brien

A Small Ode to Faith

for Bill

Seated, as we were, eleven rows
            inside the hungry belly

                      of the faithful, our religion was
fishing. And it was our religion

          made us fishermen. We were ushered
                      down the long aisle of

a pier, at the end of which murmured a vast
                       green harbour. Between

                       a bucket of slop and the entangled talk
of a dozen water-logged men

          we professed all that we now clove to:
                     the fish with piano accordion gills

stirring in an orange bucket
           the detachable heads of trumpeter

                      and damselfish, blenny, spotty
and leatherjacket. It was not

            their small minds we were drawn to
                    but their shining fuselage

held like a pen in one hand — a model
         proposed for us: well-schooled and rendered

                     in great detail, expelled from their
natural element

their aloneness. You must be fishers
          of men, we were told, with our alphabet of

                    hooks, lexicon of sinkers, lures
and spinners. While down the non-fishing end

            of things
                      under-sized boys kept

throwing themselves back, we
          made of this

                     our pier-bound profession:
the backward somersaults of faith

            between tide table and filleting board
                        beyond which a factory ship lingered

like the Church of Scotland, emptying its icebox into
            the mid-summer sea. Deep in this

                      thicket of rods, these faithfully
                                 rendered waters

with our next-to-nothing fish
          and meagre vocabulary

                    our fishing only a dream

of swimming
a chimney of birds
           to smoke the fish king

                      and being rescued.

Author’s Note


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