Old Man, Young Man, on a Mountain Top

I got an email from a young man who’d been reading my blog and was astute enough to notice I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life and didn’t appear to have a corresponding level of grief and regret. He asked me a number of personal questions regarding all that. I answered most of his questions, but the email reminded me of the following, which I wrote a few years ago.
Old Man and Young Man
On a Mountain-top

Old man and young man
Sit, gaze at far reaches
Of valley and desert
Spanning to horizon

“How’d I get to be this old?”
Old man smiles, serene
“I wonder sometimes myself”

Young man: “I’m serious”
Old man sighs and leans
Against a rock.

“You’ve already
Heard the parts about
Cheating, lying, and
Stealing all your life.
Those can shorten things
Could have mine.

Those are things you need to
Keep in moderation.”

Young man frowns.
“You’re joking.”

“No. Just being
Completely honest
For once.
But those are more
Likely just to ruin
Your life than
To end it.”

Tosses a flat rock
Into the void
Eyes follow
The long descent
“I never killed myself
When I wanted to.
Never threw myself
On my sword over
Defeats I can’t recall now.
Never flang myself
Off a cliff over scores of women
I no longer remember.”

Old man digs his pocket
Pats his other pockets
Looking for his pipe.
“I never gloated sufficiently
On my amazing successes
Over the efforts of others
(Those escape my mind
These days)
To make anyone want
To kill me enough to
Actually do it.”

Tamps the pipe
Frets with a match

“I was astute enough
To recognize early
When you bed
Another man’s woman
She’ll eventually tell him.
She mightn’t say who,
But she’ll always say what
And if he’s smart
He’ll puzzle out who.
That’s a worthy thing
To keep in mind.”

Pipe bowl sparked
Glowed, smoke
Curled around him

“I’ve always lived hard
Pushed the envelope
Hung it out over the edge.
I’d rather have died early
Than not done that

“But I always kept good tires
On whatever mechanical
Critter I was depending on
To get me back
Always kept the brakes
In good shape.  And
I was damned lucky.”

They sit silent
Watch the shadows
Crawl into arroyos
Far below.

Simon & Garfunkel – The Sound of Silence 1966 live

5 responses to “Old Man, Young Man, on a Mountain Top

  1. Youngsters just don’t understand that gratitude gets your further…faster than grief and regrets do. But then again watching Sunday morning TV, one could say there’s a lot of quite mature folks that don’t understand it either.

  2. It seems that in the silences we “hear” the most, hear better, anyway. I haven’t a single regret. Could I have done better? Perhaps. But every experience brought me Here, to this fine moment.

    There are many young people who already have a good understanding of this, but for those who don’t it’s nice that they are aware of people such as yourself, who might be able to help them in gaining some. Whatever understanding is. It seems pretty fluid. The most we can do is relate our own experiences and in so doing illuminate a corner or two. I really like your closing stanza. Watching “the shadows crawl into arroyos far below” is a wonderful metaphor. Nice images to illustrate.

  3. Hi Rich: Thanks for the visit and sharing the observation. Not many do at any age, I figures.

    Hi Theresa Evangeline. I’m not convinced doing it better is the object but if it were it wouldn’t have helped in my own life much. I never was able to know what was better except by hindsight.

    Thanks for the words and visit.

  4. Old Man is such a great term of respect. My old man was a great guy. Jules, you are a very talented fellow.

    My Papa’s Waltz by Theodore Roethke

    The whiskey on your breath
    Could make a small boy dizzy;
    But I hung on like death:
    Such waltzing was not easy.

    We romped until the pans
    Slid from the kitchen shelf;
    My mother’s countenance
    Could not unfrown itself.

    The hand that held my wrist
    Was battered on one knuckle;
    At every step you missed
    My right ear scraped a buckle.

    You beat time on my head
    With a palm caked hard by dirt,
    Then waltzed me off to bed
    Still clinging to your shirt.

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