Washing a pan that was more hope than gold
in a waterfall’s pellucid stream,
he was bent and tired and wasting old,
chasing the elusive American Dream.
He sighed aloud, unhappy with his yield,
the pan but silt and flint and rock,
and a young man approached from afield—
a jolly fop stopping by for a talk.
“Why so glum?” the young man asked.
The old man answered, “In all my many dawns
I have yet to find one golden that basked
in a sunrise, or blessed by Leprechauns.”
The young man glanced up the mountain
and saw the waterfall’s mist-borne cataract.
“There is your rainbow, that pretty fountain
as lovely as any Fairy’s golden contract.
“For poetry is the thing that enriches a man,”
the young man continued to say with a smile,
“and rainbows and beauty and all which can
inspire the spirit— that is what is worthwhile.”
The old man did not look up, not a span,
and continued sifting water over mud and silt,
gaining nothing in his old rusty pan—
not even pyrite, or such half so gilt.
Cursing, the old man smacked the stream
with the traitorous pan that denied him,
then glanced up at the foppish fool of a man
that smiled obliviously beside him.
“Can I buy food with rainbows?” he said,
“Or shelter, or clothes, or a doctor’s care?
“Listen to me, and let this settle in your head
like a dragon on his hoard.” His eyes did flare.
“You will understand more about real needs
when you are older, and by then it will be too late,
because the foolhardiness of youth only leads
to squander and squalor, for that is a man’s fate.
“You speak as if rainbows were themselves
something substantial to bridge empty air,
but they are things conjured by Youth’s elves,
so try walking those colors, if you dare.
“My complacency is as silt washed away
and all that remains are material dreams—
small, it is true, as bits gathered day by day
as I dig the darkness for whatever gleams.”
The old man said no more, standing with his back bent,
and grabbed his bucket, his pan, and his pickax,
walking toward a ragged, moth-eaten tent
where he rummaged for food amidst dirty sacks.
He sat down and ate from a bowl of gruel,
his face devoid, like a hopeless slave’s,
then took up his tools, being his own pack mule,
and walked uphill again, toward the caves.
The young man watched the old man ascend
and vowed never to be such a sad-looking man,
but his high dreams, too, came to nothing in the end
except a few bits of gold in a rusty pan.