Poetry / June 2016 (Issue 32)

Way Of Water

by Jonathan Louis Duckworth

Laozi’s disciples stood in the gate
and pulled him from his buffalo’s back.
Only after he wrote his teachings
would they allow him passage west—
to search for the roots of mountains.

The sage said his bones were driftwood
bound by the tallow and vellum
of the flesh world.
Still the students wouldn’t yield.
So Laozi relented:
“Then I go the way of water.”

They chained him to a desk
in a hovel on a wind-kissed hill,
and there he wrote for days
under constant guard,
eating nothing, drinking little.
A few kinder disciples
snuck to his window one night,
promising to break his chains.
But Laozi sent them off:
“I go the way of water.”

As he wrote he faded.
Soon the guards could read
characters on the pages
through the skin of his hands.
When he finished writing,
the disciples broke his chains
and prepared his buffalo for his journey.
But Laozi said: “No,
I go the way of water.”

Laozi stepped out into the night
and under starlight evaporated,
leaving his clothes, a puddle
for crows to bathe in,
and his writings—
an ocean without shores.

 Jonathan Louis Duckworth is an MFA student at Florida International University and a reader for the Gulf Stream Magazine. His fiction, poetry, and non-fiction appears in or is forthcoming in New Ohio Review, Fourteen Hills, PANK Magazine, Literary Orphans, Cha, Superstition Review, and elsewhere.

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