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Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Rope

in Culture/U.S. by

“Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some assembly required.”
— T-shirt sold by Wal-Mart, November 2017

I.
After, in the cool night,
her hand traces
the thin, ropy muscles
of his bare arm.
In the shadows,
laughter.

II.
The children
chant old songs
and kick puffs of dust
with each jump.
The girl with one leg
holds an end of the rope.

III.
I hug her, my fingers
sensing each strand
of cotton in her shirt,
a million tiny ropes
holding her
against me.

IV.
Grandfather’s stories of Bataan
and the march through the jungle—
Wide-eyed, the child devoured every detail:
their broken boots, their winnowing chests,
the rope that bound them in a chain
of human hoofstock.

V.
You look at the water-stained photo—
A smiling Boy Scout standing in the middle
of a monkey bridge he’d made.
The ropes look so thin, so fragile,
as if they could break apart at any moment—

VI.
Through low summer water
& morning mist,
he & his father pull
the canoe
with a blue nylon rope.
Only the words
thwart, gunwale, starboard, port
running through his head.

VII.
the first time he was really afraid
it’s night again
smoke cups holes in walls
& rooting dogs tempt
the curfew shooters
—then—
the sound of bells
in the shattered church tower
someone at work
on their ropes

VIII.
Their son’s first base hit
after the surgery—
an arcless flight beyond
the last outfielder.
A “frozen rope,”
one of the other parents
had called it.
They smiled and held
each other’s hand.

IX.
I recall his first interview,
with the mayor defending the historical
marker on the town’s old hanging tree.
How the shadow of a rope
spread across his grin.

X.
That summer, she saw Giant
at the drive-in with Hoyt:
the trick James Dean
did with that rock tied to a rope,
pulling, looping, dropping in one motion,
tying a knot with no hands.
Hoyt bought a cowboy hat after that
and practiced it for months.
Later, Dad cleared out
all the grass
around the house,
so he could spot any snake coming
and he kept a spade leaning
on the porch post.

XI.
They said there was a story left
unfinished on his desk,
across so many pages, a red line
winding like a sunset’s end,
like a red rope across a desert.

XII.
The view from the backseat
through the windshield:
the underside of unknown bridges,
the oncoming streak
of strangers’ headlights.
Beside him,
the rope.

XIII.
You reach for a rope,
a stick, anything to throw,
but he pulls
you back
“Let them learn to swim
by drowning.”

 


READ MORE

You Could Still Buy That ‘Rope. Tree. Journalist.’ Shirt on Walmart.com Until Yesterday [Adage]
Walmart pulls ‘Rope. Tree. Journalist.’ T-shirt from site [Denver Post]


Professional editor J. Todd Hawkins writes and lives in Texas. He is the author the chapbook Ten Counties Away (Finishing Line Press). His poetry has recently appeared in Rattle Poets Respond, AGNI, The Bitter Oleander, The Louisville Review, Bayou Magazine, and American Literary Review.