Old Man Laughing
Samples from Old Man Laughing
From the Book of Rope
First, there is love. Secondly,
the square knot, a perfect binding
of two equal loops, useful
for fastening gifts to each other
or, in the extreme, for closing bandages
over wounds, expected or not.
The sheet-bend hooks unequal partners,
originally a rope to the twisted end
of a sail, something fastened against wind.
The bowline’s loop won’t close, good
for saving yourself in mountain-climbing,
or, in general, being lifted up, lowered.
Hitches bind us to things, thwarting
our drift, boat to a tree, horse to any rail—
two half-hitches, hundreds of half-hitches.
In the book of rope, three tests
for every knot: Is it easy to tie?
Will it stay tied firmly? And
finally, will it be easy to untie?
Which knots have we chosen?
What else sadly should we know?
(originally in Missouri Review)
Not About Clouds
Let's say clouds are like books,
each rich chapter rather like the last,
stratified on shelves along the horizon
or curling in the cirrus of wispy thought,
or cumulus, those singular grand volumes,
and on and on. All right, let's not.
But why do we wonder about
those endlessly perishable generations?
“Alone I go to the white clouds and return,"
Wang Wei wrote. And I read, after that,
the footnote of a scholar: "Simplicity,
purity, harmony." In the mountains
of Colorado I watched come over the high pass
each morning Purity, in the afternoon, Rain,
and have, for years now, lived beneath
the sky coming apart, joining together,
like breathing. Tu Fu wrote he would follow the water
that flows beyond the gate, "leaving behind
these white clouds," the average fifty thousand
tons, I read, white being particularly heavy.
I think I'd prefer to die outside, lying on a hill,
above me only sky and its lumbering travelers,
dying in a kind of evaporation since I'm in love
still with the curved arrows of the water cycle
in grade school: high mountains, ocean, and
in between those fluffy cartoons who gather up,
who let fall. Tu Fu has now left every one behind
and Wang Wei is dead who yet lives
who is yet dead--where you stop
thinking becomes your outlook--and I,
unlike him, am not getting any younger
and have my own wine to drink.
Everything comes apart, everything joins.
I must stop looking up so much.
Let's not say anything anymore. This is not
about the clouds. Forget the clouds.
(originally in Sycamore Review)