The Old Man
The answers lie with the
Old Man who is only
Pretending to be asleep.
Though you knock on the
Thick wooden door,
Arched with rounded top,
Clunking the iron knocker
Shaped like a lion, and rap
Incessantly on the window pane,
And can through that wavy window
See him lying on his side on his
Hard wooden bench, fully dressed,
Semi-fetal position, his back to the
Room breathing heavily as if asleep
But he nevertheless hears your calls
And ignores you.
There is, however, a way in, though
The windows be locked and the door bolted.
On the stoop to the right of the door in the
Stone wall that forms the base of the arbor
Which covers the entry with twisted vines,
One large stone, if one looks closely, is
Loose, and if eased out
(Not without considerable effort)
Reveals a hidden lever.
Being careful to brush away the spiders
You pull the lever which very reluctantly
Yields, groans, protests, then clicks into
Gear a mechanism that silently and slowly
Opens the door.
As you step into the room –there appears to be
Only one room – lit by flickering oil lamp and a
Few rays of sunlight that have long sought
Entrance with you, the old wooden floor
Creaks under your feet, but the old man
Does not stir until you muster your courage,
And shake his shoulder. It is when you do that
You discover his eyes are open and he has not been asleep,
Only disregarding your knocking.
It is perhaps a test of persistence.
His bones creak like the floor and he
Turns towards you and sits up, scratching
His white beard with knurled fingers
Stained from eons of work at the
Carpenter’s bench, Potter’s wheel,
Artist’s palette, and especially, in the
Barn behind the cottage where cedar
Trees are honed into the beams,
Ribs and spars of vessels to plough
The seven seas with their holds filled with
Sacks of grain for mills to grind into
Sacred Bread of Life.
He is grumpy but not mean, softly
Barking, “What do you want?” and
“How did you get in here?”
Contrary to the voice and the questions,
His old eyes sparkle with clarity and
Glow like a candle flame with understanding.
It is when you look into those eyes that you
Realize he already knows why you’re there and
What ineffable existential questions are burning in
Your soul and driving you to the edge of insanity.
He knows you feel like the hunted fox chased by
Hounds, like the frightened rabbit that only
Caught glimpse of the eagle after the dive was initiated.
Seated on the edge of the hard wooden plank of a bed,
You instinctively draw close. He lifts a worn hand and
Places it on your shoulder; and with that touch,
All your fears melt and all the unanswered questions
Converge into a pristine river.
Suddenly, the old house, the barn behind, the arbor, the
Arched door, flickering lamp, and wooden bench
You are standing in a flower-laden meadow on the
Bank of a pristine mountain river laughing its way
Over rocks, through oxbows, and over cataracts.
Brightly colored fish leap with energetic joy,
While, across the way, moose, elk, deer,
Mountain goats, bears, antelope, bison, and
Cougars graze together as friends. The
Meadow seems to contain every kind of
Flowering plant – butterflies and bees, bluebirds and
Orioles flit about, hawks and eagles soar aloft.
And the Old Man stands with you, still clad in his
Green flannel shirt and leather chaps; his
Arm around your shoulder and a contented
Smile on his wrinkled face.
He does not speak.
Willingly, you go.
Helping lift the old
(Carved from an oak centuries ago)
From the bushes into the river.
He sits in the stern, paddle in hand,
You in the bow, content with your
Guide, as, together, you traverse the
Gradually widening river over falls and rapids
And long stretches of gentle currents, past
Pastures of horses, towering redwoods,
Golden canyons, and fields of grain, past
Villages, children playing on the banks, and
Kindly farm women waving greeting
As if, they too, knew the Old Man.
After many months (or was it years?)
You beach the canoe in the delta.
The Old Man builds a fire and roasts
Fish and fresh bread for breakfast.
Satiated, you board a vessel with him,
Somehow knowing it is one he built in the
Barn behind the old house in the woods.
You are his only crew. Still, he does not speak, but
Nods approvingly as you hoist the main, fores’l, and jib
And again, as you cast off and trim the sails
While he, at the helm, guides the boat into
A steady 10-knot ocean breeze.
As if in a dream, the early morning fog
Enshrouds the schooner and you cannot even
See the mast tops.
Did he not sleep at all?
Was he at the helm all night?
And yet, no waning vigor!
Old eyes lids caked with salt,
Cracked lips parched, age spots on his hands,
He guides without a compass, through fog and
Tempest, choppy seas, howling storms,
Driving rain, and under soft sunny skies
Dotted with smiling puffs of clouds.
All is well.
You are safe.
Sailing for decades.
Faintly, off in the distance, you
Hear the ethereal music of the spheres
Sun, moon, and stars seem to sing
On the horizon lies a
Golden palace atop a
Pure white opal mountain