Hour 22, Old Man Under the Mountain

Old Man Under the Mountain

I scrabbled over stones slippery with sea foam,
hands and shins bloodied, steadying myself
with a staff from a dying willow tree.

I approached the stone ruins backwards,
at sunset, glancing sideways only
and tapped three times with the staff at the gate.

I turned seven times counter clockwise
as I intoned the proscribed words slowly
“Old man under the mountain, hear my plea.”

Just as I finished the final turn,
the last glimmer of sun slipped below the waves,
and the gate rumbled open.

Golden light flooded the opening, an invitation
to enter fairy lands. Down I went upon
stone stairs to find my fate.

Old Man reclined on sumptuous fabrics,
velvets, silks, and furs, but what truly amazed
was his visage, unlike any I’d ever knowingly seen.

Seeming starvation had lent his face, hands, and feet
gaunt elegance, and had chiseled musculature
that in a man would be obscured
just beneath the surface.
He seemed on the verge of atrophy,
but as he was when seen,
he displayed a beauty angels alone possess,
difficult to behold
in its implied suffering.

He rose, and to my shock he bowed to the floor,
exclaimed “My son, you have returned at last!
I may now finally die; you have  passed the test!”

Rocks clapped closed over me as he disappeared
and so here I remain, elegant, starved, and waiting,
waiting for a successor’s release.

Tracy Plath

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