I’m old and I shall die soon. This much is true. For much of the time nowadays such anguished queries as to what
manner of ‘soon’? whose ‘soon’? when does ‘soon’ transmute into pretty much now? go unspoken. The day is shopping, bed-making, emptying the dishwasher, walking the dog. I have a beer with friends; I talk, I argue, I laugh with my family. So that ‘soon’ simply ticks over as a managed sense of diminishing future, an intellectual awareness rather than a red-light imminence. And it goes without saying, of course, that throughout all the sturm und drang of childhood, youth and middle age, the immortality diode through which all experience was filtered performed its function admirably and my existential voltage flowed unimpeded forwards, always forwards.

Then 13 years ago I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. After surgery and with treatment I live with it now and am assured by my oncologist that it’s not going to carry me off. But that door to the mortality ante-room was opened with the urologist’s words of diagnosis and with the passing of the years since that day the darkness within it impinges increasingly on that voltage flow.


There are moments of sheer despair. They stop me in doorways, on the stairs, by a window. I’m not done yet. I love and am loved. I am everything that I am. The energy that binds my atoms and molecules together as me is inexhaustible, even within the fatigue of sleeplessness. My consciousness of its heat and radiance is constant. What do I care for its transmogrification into some other form beyond my death? Attention! the mynah birds call in Aldous Huxley’s neglected
masterpiece Island. Here and now, boys, here and now! I AM here and now. What inexplicable chaos is represented by a ‘soon’ that will turn all of this passion and glory, this peace and serenity into a then’? The contemplation of departure from all of this is beyond reason or comfort. My partner, my children, my grandchildren, my friends, my dog – they’re all here around me in this great sunlit ark safe amongst the waves. Despair grips me; it covers my eyes and ears. I’m paralysed with dread at the mere thought of their dispersal into the life to come and my disintegration into dust. At such
times beyond reason there is only the catharsis of tears.

But here in age there’s joy too whose acuteness is maybe greater than before. Maybe it’s in the sheer cool cleansing
water of laughter that for the moment can’t be stopped. There’s nothing in the space between us but the sound and sight of sense unravelling and the bright clarity of absurdity shining into every corner. Love binds us as we share for a few heartbeats the truth that nothing matters in a world of dreams because all the constraints of time have in the here and now has been obliterated in the wild abandon of moments. Laughter is, of course, a vitalising function at all stages
of life. But in age I see it and seek it as a process of intrinsic value, not just as a release within the uneven dynamics of everyday events. Maybe through a letting go there is accessible in age a zen through which the fundamental absurdity of all human endeavour outside loving is quietly but devastatingly apparent.

And meaning – the search for which burns so many lives to a crisp – declares itself most when unsought. It’s in apotheosis – that moment in which all activity without and within makes perfect sense. The dancer’s triumph off the earth and in clear air; the rugby player’s crashing skid across the touchline; musicians sweeping across their little patch of space in perfect concert; lovers’ in their mutual consummation when rewarded for the absolute generosity of each. So when I interrogate my silent, solitary days for witness to any intrinsic personal purpose or function – to my place along the route rather than on its verges – what testimony can I offer up? There are two forces in my life that animate me and disconnect me from the purely utilitarian – music and poetry. Playing in my band of 8 years, MoorbyJones, whether in rehearsal or performance, instils within me an overwhelming sense of rightness and connection. And putting a poem together over time, whether months or moments, informs me that I have a purpose, even maybe an obligation that is
unique to me and it must be discharged. (Which is to make no claims as to any objective quality or value of the product. Those are aspects of its existence which can only have meaning or none to another).

Kathy Burke’s recipe for right livelihood declares: ‘Be content. Clean your teeth. Make sure your breath don’t stink. Try not be a cunt.’ Brendan Behan’s manifesto was equally simple: ‘I have a total irreverence for anything connected with society except that which makes the roads safer, the beer stronger, the food cheaper and the old men and old women warmer in the winter and happier in the summer.’ And on a less demotic plain, there’s the Dalai Lama: ‘This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.’ No specious moralising here or appeals to a higher level of consciousness other than that which we employ on our way home from work or to a football match. And aren’t all three statements informed by love in its most practical portable form? So much so, surely, as to eschew any notion of the divine outside the majesty of the human spirit.

In age I do try so hard to be kind against the urgings of selfishness, fear and anger. Kindness is how love operates at street level and it brings with it a payload of well-being. I feel much readier, more willing and more able to love in this simple way now that I’m so much less burdened by corrosive ambition and competitiveness. But still too often I realise retrospectively that an opportunity has been missed to do so and I have to try to turn regret into resolve. But this
capacity I believe to be a gift of age and I’m happy indeed to sacrifice the drive to compete and win with its consequence of loss and diminution on the part of the loser.

And so with this sense of fewer corners along a shorter path ahead, there is only one recourse: look no further than the next pace and the next pace…

DJ 25/3/23

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Old Man’s Tears

There is a plant
called old man’s tears.
A thwart, disnatured thing,
tall, but crooked tall,
not bold tall like
its companions all around.

And its leaves are thinner,
but they’re fiercer,
like its flower, which, though
chewed and ragged, still
stares bright into the world.

There is maybe a melancholy
in the burdened curve
of its filaments, but
there’s a wisdom too
within the flesh of its anthers.

And, if you peer close,
there on the single stamen eye,
the limpid markings
that they call old man’s tears.

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skies that make islands
of familiar trees
and cause us to imagine
great waters in between
near and far

and so probability
yields to dreaming
and there are wings

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Proposition. A song is a song and a poem is a poem.
They share words but they don’t share function.
I wrote this as a poem and then Steve Moorby of
MoorbyJones, the band we share with his daughter
Gemma Moorby, set it to music and we recorded it.
It’s due for release imminently and I’ll link to
Spotify when it’s out in the world. And then, if
the proposition has value for you, gentle reader,
you may judge!


When the sun
is obscured by clouds
and the moon and the stars
are inconstant
and the stations you pass
with the crosses you bear
are turning your bones
into water…

lean into oncoming wind,
let hot sand sun through your fingers,
stand under falling water.

When the clock
is slipping its gears
and the minutes
get ground into powder
and the song in the wires
is a hymn for the fallen
and the North Star
is lost to the sailor…


When each night
is a different story
but the theme and the plot
are unchanging
and you’re walking
the narrowest furrow
and you meet yourself
there at the turning
and you sleep like
you’re deep fathoms down,
but you’re treading
the boards until dawn…


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Even when you know that with any given poetry magazine receiving maybe 3,000 submissions a month, the chances of acceptance are minimal, it can be a rough push in the chest when yours is rejected.

Against the inevitable sense of invalidation that defies the hard logic of numbers, I have submitted very few poems in years. In general I’m not prolific: my output is relatively sparse so what goes out is pretty much all I’ve got at any given time. 

But over the past couple of years I’ve found myself more creatively busy than in a very long time. Lockdown, walking the dog I’d fought against acquiring for years, this season late in life – all powerful stimuli, I guess, for now doing regularly something that I’ve done in bursts ever since my teens. 

So recently I submitted groups of poems to magazines once again. Not this time just to a selection of the excellent little known publications that abound on the internet, but to the best known and most highly regarded ones. I have much less time in front of me than there is behind so it’s now surely that this man’s reach should exceed his grasp! And in reaching further I set myself up, of course, both for almost inevitable rejection and its corollary dejection. 

No surprises, then, that to date Poetry London and the members’ page of Poetry Review have said no thanks. However, with that grasp in mind, I’m delighted that London Grip is taking two poems for next spring. But even on the back of that success I’m far from optimistic that the other poems are going to find landfall and I regret greatly not having pushed back harder a long time ago. Maybe had I spread the words more energetically and celebrated success more loudly , then I’d be occupying a bit more shelf space now! 

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i leave the earth
in vapour even
under a winter sun
i become a cold-
shouldered cloud
uneven inconstant
i hide the sky
and you wonder
will we ever know
blue around
our heads again
i eat
the children clouds
where they play
and become all heft
and hubris
but as empires fall
so i fragment
and the earth
reclaims my body
in a million pieces
here i lie staring
at my sisters
but i am not done
look i have swallowed
a tree

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