For Thomas Davis
To wander is the privilege of youth;
Explore new lands, sleep under different skies,
Run lightly through the world, uncover truth
Through work, play and the counsel of the wise.
We follow diverse paths en route to find
The true course of our lives; these are the years
To test and try; make up, then change, our mind,
When all we have to lose is sleep, and tears.
Now I am old – or old enough to know
When time’s right to retire my travelling shoes
And settle to the row that’s mine to hoe:
Take up the tools I best know how to use.
How far I’ve come to find myself back here;
My strength restored, my path and purpose clear.
Sharp tang of jet fuel
In the quick-clouding autumn air.
Redolent of adventure
And unconsidered action:
Black leafless birches and moonlit snow
Above sixty-six degrees;
Creaking saddles and boyhood dreams
Beneath the western pines;
The earth’s bones breaking through rusty dirt
On the dreaming plain.
Fragments of lost lives, long-departed versions of myself
Like the last suitcases on the carousel
Slowly circling, slowly circling
Never to be reclaimed.
At Gatwick Airport railway station, November 2019
No fanfare, flags, no big parade;
A blanket ban on brouhaha
At my insistence:
Not my style.
I cast back a weary eye and jagged mind
Rewind the rusting, ever-running clock,
Review and reconsider;
And with a certain sadness
But no surprise at all
Discover things are more or less
Exactly as I left them.
This would be a moment
To take stock
A step back
A long hard look
At the coming years
With half an eye
On the trail of dust behind.
I find myself
The end of everything
With all that I have been and know
Made instantly irrelevant.
And what I thought
Might be an end in sight
Turns out to be a starting-over
A forced march down an unknown road
To hasty plans and desperate choices
I have no heart or will to make.
I should know better;
Admit it’s long past time
To give it up.
This is a young man’s game:
Screaming at an indifferent heaven
Is undignified in one my age.
Where is my decorum
My armour-plate against the world
The self-control that comes with years
And having seen it all?
Yet I’ve not lived this long
To sit in docile acquiescence
As all that I have built
Is burned before my eyes.
My early self, perhaps,
Could have surveyed the ruins,
And in the blackened beams, the heat-split bricks
Seen promise, and all I might raise anew.
All I have left is rage
That will not let me rest
Until we die together.
To think that once
We’d gather while the saner world
With its small ways
And dull, diminished dreams
And roll out
Knowing we’d be gone
Till those same silent streets
Smouldered gold in a hickory reek
And weary shadows yawned and stretched
Into encroaching dusk;
Cheeks and bellies hollowed out,
Legs freighted with a double metric tonne
Of England’s lanes and hills;
Unconscious of our glory
Complacent in our strength
And never yet supposing
That our one day’s ride
Would turn in time
Into a weekend’s work;
That knees and hips would find their voice
And raise a chorus of complaint
With backs and shoulders
And all our talk
Would be of what had been.
A different road
Through distant days.
When I was 15, Bruce Springsteen’s anthem Glory Days was just a great song. It still is, of course; but 30-some years on, I feel as though I’m in it. My friend Mike wasn’t (as far as I know) ‘a big baseball player’ but he was a fine bike-rider, and a great companion on the road. Looking back, I can’t quite believe we put in some of the miles and days we did. Couldn’t do it now, but wouldn’t have missed it for the world. N.
Beneath my eyes
Are just my carry-on;
My real freight
Is checked and stowed:
The baggage that I do not need
But cannot seem to live without;
A steamer-trunk of wasted years
A rain-stained tote of lost ideas
A locked briefcase of secret schemes
A Samsonite of fragile dreams.
It’s unimportant where I go
How frequently or far I fly,
How carelessly I label them
Or hope they tumble from the sky:
Each day I’m at the carousel
To find that every single piece
Has made it with me, safe and well.
A reclaim that brings no release.
I envy them their energy
Insouciance and ignorance
Ability to stay up late
And lie in later;
I covet their unclouded eyes
Their narrow waists
And knees that don’t complain
On autumn mornings.
But most of all I’m jealous of
Thick and lustrous
As the new spring grass,
With scope to sculpt, the heft to gel and flick,
Strong and shining
Packed full of pro-B vitamins and promise.
Submit meekly to the clippers
And an undebated scalping,
All thought of style,
Like the substance,
Long lost and brushed away.
Youth. Truly wasted on the young. N.
A sawblade year:
The high points silver-bright, diamond-hard;
And in between
Ravines notched deep in time
Where I lost sight of life
And all sense of myself.
Now all its instances
Combine to cut another length
From the narrow beam I balance on
And bring the rough and splintered end
More sharply into view.
I have a terror
Of turning into
A visceral, mortal
Dread of plaid flannel shirts
Soft shoes, drawstring waistbands
Feeling the cold
Declaring they don’t
Write them or make them
Like that any more
Trying to hold conversations
In buttery fingers
All these cars came from
And why are they going so fast
It was all trees here
And staring at this screen
What in God’s name
Does any of it mean.
But since I’ll never be
The one with the toolbox
And the strong, quick hands
The one with the shed
Full of jars of just what you’ve been looking for
The one who always has time
To be counsellor, confidant,
The one you have only to ask
And for whom nothing
Is too much trouble
The one who remains calm
And unfailingly finds the right words
When it’s all gone horribly wrong
I have nothing to fear