Ask anyone and they’ll tell you how
he messed his life. With a pious shake of head
they’ll say don’t look now
but that chap there may as well be dead,
for all the living that he does.
For thirty years he’s held a job he hates,
for twenty drank more than most of us,
and left wife and kids to their fates.
He lives alone, dines out, eating not for pleasure
but as a chore to be put away,
a tiresome impediment to his leisure.
Drinks tons of tea, a ghastly Earl Grey
he spends a fortune getting (his other tastes
being just as odd and expensive) – in short
a rum cove, an eccentric who wastes
more money than he’s got.
At home he swims like a distrait whale
among piles of books that litter his floor
like scattered shoals, the air stale
with tobacco, decay and the must of yore.
And yet – he’s not all loss. Remove him
a few centuries, and watch animation stir
on his Old Testament face: eyes a-brim
he’ll talk of times or worlds more familiar
than his own palm. Listen quietly as he rattles
names and dates, places long since
wiped off the maps, and obscure battles
past the scrutiny of even historians.
Or mood depending, hear him tell
most movingly of some Antarctic race,
or how some lustrous mountaineer fell
on K2’s cruel unforgiving face.
For he’s that curious bird for whom
the past must lure with a siren’s wiles,
or the timeless sanctuary of the womb
which a raucous loutish present defiles.