We had hours yet
before the sun would rise.
I was nine, maybe ten years old,
too young to fully appreciate a silent lake bank
and not having anywhere to be.
I shivered bone-deep in the early air.
My father said he was glad we could make it out–
Before all the tourists took the good spots.
A tiny electric lantern
shined a soft halo of blue light around us.
Dad smoked in stony silence
while I fumbled with my Disney-branded fishing rod.
I told him that I felt bad for the nightcrawlers
that we skewered onto the end of our hooks.
He said that sometimes he did too.
I reeled in a bluegill—
Nothing huge, but still—
My first ever catch with no assistance.
Dad asked if I’d like to keep it.
I told him my fishbowl wasn’t big enough.
He helped me get the hook out
despite the frantic thrashing.
I tossed it back into cold, blue-green water.
For a moment, I appreciated the silence.
We packed up just as the sun began to rise.
I could hear birds chirping in the background.
Dad handed me a Styrofoam cup—
Still half-full of fat grey earthworms.
“You can let them go, if you want.”
I dumped the cup out into a nearby patch of upturned earth
and watched the worms writhe their way out of sight—
Pretending that the birds wouldn’t get them.
When I was younger, it terrified me
To look at the universe as some brutal, uncaring thing.
I expected it to be organized and meaningful
Like all the little quirks
Mom expected me to grow out of.
(Neither I nor the universe
Ever lived up to expectations.)
I don’t worry over fate quite so much, anymore.
Now I find a sort of comfort
In the idea of a chaotic, unknowable cosmos.
It’s like realizing
That the prison walls are cardboard,
That the steel bars can crumble in my grasp.
Maybe there is some unseen structure to it all,
But maybe there isn’t.
Maybe it doesn’t matter—
At least, not the way I thought it did.