“Tying the Knot” by Kathleen Dale

Kathleen Dale


I struggle, spread on the bow, sweat
dripping to wet fingerless gloves,

to tie a bowline in the stiff
slimed hulking rope of the mooring.

Patiently you have told me “out
of the hole, round the tree, into

the hole” but line resists loop, hole’s
edge laps backwards or rabbit

runs around the tree widdershins
and under my hands fall away

to nothing. Neither has my double
hitch held, the second twist

taking a wrong turn, sliding
free, unsnagged, deep

into churning water. You’ve tried
to show me how to plait the figure

eight, infinite knot holding
firm under stress but in calm,

slipping free. I’ve shrunk from the bright
beam of love’s dazzling ring,

that lasso’s unwavering light,
I’ve shied from enclosure, cheered when

the cowpoke’s lariat falls
flat. Yet how tenderly

you would wrap a tasseled cord
round the skittish bones of my wrist

then your own as we’d lace
vows; you’d lead me, blindfolded

mare from a blazing barn,
lash me like that other sailor

to a mast of trust. Show me,
my Houdini, once again

how to tie that automatic
knot, how bitter ends

come naturally to connection,
how blunt, blind fingers find

the way to links that simply last
or loosen on command, even

in the dark of inattention,
even under water, even

in a sunken trunk bound with
leather straps, even as,

expert, lithe, adept, we brim
with, hold each other’s breath.

from Rattle #22, Winter 2004


Kathleen Dale: “I teach writing courses during the year at UW-Milwaukee, so have extended writing time only in summers. I’ve been doing this for a long time. I did it before MFA’s in creative writing were de rigueur. I do it because the writing always teaches me something about where I am and what’s next, and because it’s always a kick to see what new connections the language will make this time. During the school year I squirrel away drafts to work on during the too-short summer. And even during winters, they’re always there on the computer for a quick look, a quick revision, a quick reminder that this is what I do.”

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