Young Man and Old Man (from Poems of the New Old West)

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 the 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



From Poems of the New Old West

Copyright 2002©Jack Purcell

2 responses to “Young Man and Old Man (from Poems of the New Old West)

  1. Quite moving.
    Rock Mountains Treasure Found
    I bet Jules would’ve got a kick out of this story, he being a man with his own treasure hunts to follow. Cheers

    • I remember him chasing down that story and speculating a lot about where it might be and how it might be found. Very interesting, thanks for the link.

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