The Old Man
The room is small and sparsely furnished
One lone picture hanging on the wall.
Along one side a narrow bed
Takes the whole of that wall and lurks
Beneath a torn and tatty bedspread.
A basic table sits between the bed
And a simple wooden wardrobe.
On the left a four-drawer chest
Huddles beneath a metal framed window
That struggles to keep the winter storm outside.
In the middle of the floor, taking all the space
An upright chair - of utility not comfort -
Within which an old man sits in quiet dignity.
Wearing black tee-shirt under striped pyjamas
Wrapped around with shabby dressing gown
That has seen many better days.
The man, it’s clear, was once quite tall
But now with shoulders slumped
And nothing on his frame
He looks broken, beaten down by age
And by life’s cruel circumstance.
Above the tops of mis-matched socks
In the gap below pyjama legs
Brittle white shins with skin like paper
Give a hint to his true age.
Wispy stubble dances on a face that has seen no razor
These last ten or fifteen days.
His rheumy eyes look straight ahead
Into the far distance and beyond the room.
Not through blindness but because his mind
Replays the visions of his life
While trying not to see
This little box wherein he spends his days.
His fingers, long and bony, form grasping hands
That fold across and round a loose-leaf binder
That he holds tightly to his chest.
Despite the fertile mind that spurred him on
This file with modest poems inside
- What he used to call “his scribblings” -
Is all that’s left to mark his time on earth.
His hair, though full of growth is snowy white
Which means he has just days to live.
For the men of his family line,
As they each approach the end
Of their allotted time on earth,
Lose all colour in their hair
And it turns to purest white
Five days before they lose their life.
You may look but will not see
The loneliness he’s carried all his life.
No friends have come to call and wish him well
Or ask about his health.
Wherever he went he made acquaintances
With ease and with much mutual pleasure
But as he went through life's long journey
Deep friendships seemed to pass him by.
For he built walls to keep the world out
And those high boundaries kept him in.
And few it was who reached across
And tried to hold him close.
So when he had a tale to tell
Of all that he had seen and done
There were none to listen,
None to share his joy.
His mind is damaged now and has been so
For many years long passed.
But when the stress and panics clear
To give him some respite,
He sees his past with clarity
And replays it like a film within his mind.
The early years on Exmoor in the rolling hills
Gave the love of open space which never left his heart.
Then to rural Dorset and that Jurassic coast
Before the deserts of Arabia opened up a whole new world.
He’s swam in the Pacific and also in the Nile
And stood on the edge of the Rift Valley
To marvel at the view.
He’s walked across the mountain border
Into Turkey from Iran
Under Mount Ararat’s watchful ancient gaze.
And stood on the banks of the Dnipro River
Looking east across the Russian vastness.
In his later life he still loved the open spaces.
The rolling hills of Suffolk and the valley of the Stour
Set the boundaries of his life
But he was happy there.
Now he knew his life had reached its end.
Enclosed within this tiny room
He knew that there was no way out.
No more distant views to see
No return once more to sites he’d loved.
But he could still see them in his mind.
And just as that old man can clearly see
All his life that’s gone before
I can see the future too
And that old man is me.