top of page

"A Foolish, Fond Old Man" 




No, I’m awake.  Don’t go just yet.

A dozen patients wait for you, I know,

But I wait for you only.  

Forgive an old man’s flirting,

The last, sad pleasures of a dying heart.

I am a foolish, fond old man.


Still, it’s true.  The only medicine that does me good

Is this brief time with you each day.

Your smile makes me forget that I’m entombed

Here in this nest of death,

Contagion, and unnatural sleep.


You do me too much honor, Caritas.

My words are borrowed flaunts, borrowed finery.

My love for poetry, alas, has ever been

An unrequited passion.  I plagiarize the Bard—

A habit I acquired in my youth

And have indulged the seven decades since.

Now I lack time to change; besides,

The drugs that drip into my tainted veins

Inebriate me.  There’s a mercy!

Thank God I won’t die sober,

Though I must die unsatisfied.


Desire, Caritas, expires last,

Long after capabilities or senses.

Tell me, where is fancy bred?

Or in the heart or in the head?

Not in the blood that streaks me red!


A foolish, fond old man…

You are too young to know despair.

And I too ancient to remember hope.

Or to remember much at all, truth be told.

My acrimonious daughter—

Sharper than a serpent’s tooth, my child--

Waxes wroth whenever, muddle-minded,

I call her by my long-dead sister’s name:

Rosemary.  You see the irony.  Or do you see?

Rosemary, says the fair Ophelia,

Is for remembrance and yet I still forget.


Ophelia who loves Hamlet…do you know the play?

Is it inflicted, still, on contumacious youth?

You don’t suppose the name conflates

“Ham” and “omelet,” I hope?

Oh, it’s good to hear you laugh!  

With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come!


Now, here’s a riddle for you.

This pompous, garrulous scamp embedded here,

His stick limbs threaded with a scarlet curse—

In what way is he Christlike?


I hope I don’t offend you, Caritas.

I’m but a fellow known for infinite jest.

I mean no disrespect for any faith—

That would be perilous indeed as I draw near

To any hell or heaven or hereafter.

It’s only that, like Jesus, I have been sped

By simple nails and wood to

Whatever world awaits.


My neighbor Bill, adores his wayward mutt

Despite that mongrel’s wandering ways.

To keep the dog confined, hapless Bill

Erected, round his yard, a cedar fence.  

He paid no pro to build, bragged it was DIY.

A sorry, slapdash fence it is.

Within a week, the pooch tunneled his way beneath.

If it is true good fences make good neighbors, Bill’s no good.

But affable and pleasant, that he is

And, like me, loves to talk.


One June day, I settled in my lawn chair, book in lap

And drowsed and dozed and dreamed.

Bill’s shouted greetings roused me.

His bellowed goodwill summoned me

To chat, and, half-asleep,

I joined him at that makeshift barricade.

But as I leaned across, a jutting nail,

Unhammered by the careless Bill,

Poked through my favorite shirt.

My favorite shoulder, too.

It hurt, but not too much.  A scratch,

A shallow puncture.  Like Mercutio’s

Neither well-deep nor church-door wide,

But certainly enough.  It served.


I recall that golden afternoon,

The cloudless azure sky, the sun

Mild and warming.  Perfection.

I wondered, that June day, if I

Would ever live to see another such.

My wound was far too slight to mar it.

I took the garden hose, rinsed off the place,

Cursed Bill good-naturedly, took up my book again,

And thought no more about my mishap.

I forgot.  I rambled through the sonnets

And forgot.  I am indolent—

A foolish, fond old man.


Next morning, as I shaved, I saw that tiny hole

Slapped on a Band-Aid and forgot again.


A tiny hole!  A thing of naught!

But I am eighty-five, my body weary,

Too tired to take up arms

Against a sea of troubles.  

And so that injured place grew red

And hot and throbbing and, at last,

Discharged a loathsome pus.

My daughter nagged until, reluctantly,

I showed it to my doctor.  She straightway

Banished me here and here I stay

And nevermore hence to depart.


No, do not sorrow for me, my lady Caritas.

By many summers I have outlived my youth

And eluded the fate common to all who breathe.

Now, like the Danish prince I must yield at last

To the treachery of an envenomed point.


I linger too long; I keep you from your duties.

I thank you for your patience, for your healing smile.

And for the rest, throw physic to the dogs.

As you well know, each little life is rounded with a sleep.

So, maiden, mourn me not.

For I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot

If thinking on me ever made you woe.


Go now.  You wear nobility’s true badge,

Sweet mercy, and to the many needful you must give.

And as for me, since I must die—

A foolish, fond old man—

I may as well

Encounter darkness as a gentle bride

And hug her in my arms.

Her bridesmaids pull me toward her readied chamber…

And so, good night.


Foolish, fond old man

Nest of death, contagion, and unnatural sleep

Borrowed flaunts, borrowed finery

Tell me, where is fancy bred . . . in the head

Sharper than a serpent's tooth

Rosemary, that's for remembrance

With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come

Good fences make good neighbors

Not so deep as a well nor so wide as a church door

A thing of naught

The point envenomed 

Throw physic to the dogs

Each little life is rounded with a sleep

In your sweet thoughts . . . should make you woe

Sweet mercy is nobility's true badge

I will encounter darkness as a bride . . . in mine arms

King Lear, Act IV, Scene 7

Romeo and Juliet, Act V, Scene 3

Winter's Tale, Act IV, Scene 4

The Merchant of Venice, Act III, Scene 2

King Lear, Act I, Scene 4

Hamlet, Act IV, Scene 5

The Merchant of Venice, Act I, Scene 1

"Mending Wall," Robert Frost

Romeo and Juliet, Act III, Scene 1

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act IV, Scene 2

Hamlet, Act V, Scene 2

Macbeth, Act V, Scene 3

The Tempest, Act IV, Scene 1

"Sonnet 71," William Shakespeare

Titus Andronicus, Act I, Scene 1

Measure for Measure, Act III, Scene 1

bottom of page