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ISSUE:  Spring 1998
I’m trying to remember
  the knots,
figure eight, bowline,
becket bend, my favorite,
I’m trying to see again
his brown hands in the mirror
as they twined the Duke of Windsor
until it was done and I was off
to the Pater Noster and the hereafter,
down Olmstead, then Ontario, past
 Boney’s Bar
where he’d practiced the sheepshank
and fisherman’s bend,
where he’d made the long splice
between the two ends of frayed rope
the night my mother high-heeled out,

that’s what I’m thinking as my son
ascends the climbing wall of Cathedral Rock,
stained glass saints still lifting
their staffs and rods, their cupped worlds
 and glinting swords
while he stretches carefully for whatever hold,

hands powdered and taped, twelve years old,
checking my figure eight before he slid
 into the harness,
checking my safety knot before he rose,
not believing I’d learned them all
 in my father’s smoke,
not hearing the names as I repeated them,
refusing to follow the leader
up and down, down, then up again
 until it was done
and he was safely tied in
and ready to ascend,

like my old man, no doubt,
face down on the smooth, cool, walnut bar
where he’d fallen asleep and finally ceased
 to exist,
the knots coming undone with his every breath,
until he was nothing but miles of rope
and a pair of knowing hands

that are my hands letting out and bringing in
 my boy at the other end
of a rope that’s knotted right,
cinched, taut, and holding the weight.


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