What does he see where I see only stone?
The man is still, his gaze fixed on the ground
but that gaze compels you to look again;
in such moments a mind might overreach the stars.
I see my reflection, he says;
I see my hair no longer covers my head,
its silver ring above my ears, he says,
is like gorse cleared from a hill-top.
And, he says, I see the child struggling
in the young branches of childhood,
the school doors fanning him on and on
through corridors of captivity, a whirligig
through years, disremembering his own footsteps.
I see the would-be lover, and he loved his hair;
he put a shine in his eye like I polish a shoe;
and his full bracelet of teeth; my God, he could smile.
I see how time subtracts: aging dreams
till they become hobbled old goats that have outstared you,
till they have become unbelievable.
My young loves reflected back have their young faces still
but I would be afraid to see them now.
My plans and projects are shunted, rusting old carriages;
I don't visit them anymore.
The old man's arms are folded so fingers lie like stripes
on his right arm, forage in the dark woolen sleeve
of his left. His head is slightly forward,
his eyes unblinking as though entranced
by weeds growing on the floor of a pond.
I see too that I never held the reins of a life,
that indifference is a colander, indecision has the grasp
of a hand without fingers. Days are punched down
like receipts onto a nail; named, counted, collected,
they grow into months; life flitting across the pages
of a calendar, falling into the holes between Christmases.
And I remember those Christmases
long ago when I was young, the totting up ̶
over a drink ̶ of departed faces and the wishes,
the wish-bone skinny wishes for the coming year
that smouldered beside a glass of stout and then went out.
I see those faces whose roots entangled with my own,
how arrogance blinded me so I could not see
it was the carpet of their roots that buoyed me up
until recently, feeling them slip away,
feeling the cold gaps they’ve left around me, I discovered
it wasn’t I that put the colours in my head,
and with that discovery much has toppled
that hindered my view. I see, as though from a height,
my head is indistinguishable from all the others
rushing like froth from this life that we call
Now his face is raised, his eyes red-rimmed
with the racing bobbin that’s in his head:
I saw the ground and the scuffed toe to my shoe;
a lifetime might have no other measure than
its number of worn out shoes.