page 14





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.