To Cast a Line

The first time fishing with my father,

sticking the worm through, he told me

not to worry. That the slender body I pinched

and squashed a bit in my hands

had many hearts.

As if the anatomy of its beating

could have made it easier

to cast the line. Oh no

I remember thinking, it has begun

its dying already. I felt as though

I were undoing years of my careful tread after hard rain,

to avoid them as they came to light

up onto the surface, so much light,

all that flesh, pruned, transparent

and writhing on the earth now. Was this ever

my responsibility, to know

the exact moment this very larva began

its death? So I cast my line clumsily and waited

in the early morning rivermists.

Remembering this now, it seems almost

ludicrous—my father’s mud-sunk, bloody, killing hands instead of

those fingers passing me books or pens or turning to handle his

guitar, its luminous strings, rubbing my

aching back. It feels as if

it were another person’s life, another person’s

father. I think, now, that perhaps

it was, and is, and I am just

lonely and surrounded. Then, I think the river

and the fish and the pulsing water and all the things

I misremember make me just

eternal. I’m passing through. Like a body

split apart into millions of particles and moments and

memory spread and dampening the ends of a small boy’s

shorts, up to his chin, into his mouth.

How else could I remember wiping

the sweat from my small brow,

trying to steady the thing

by its ends, wanting to give it back

to its home, to release the liquid

ray in water and wriggle down

to the earth, even as again now I fold its body

like fabric and pierce at least two

of its thousand hearts?


Darius Atefat-Peckham is an Iranian-American poet and essayist. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Michigan Quarterly Review, Texas Review, Zone 3, Nimrod, Brevity, Crab Orchard Review, The Southampton Review and elsewhere. In 2018, Atefat-Peckham was selected by the Library of Congress as a National Student Poet, the nation’s highest honor presented to youth poets writing original work. His work has appeared in numerous anthologies, including My Shadow is My Skin: Voices from the Iranian Diaspora (University of Texas Press). Atefat-Peckham currently studies Creative Writing at Harvard College.