Wherein Old Tom, Bent with Age, Imagines Sit here and conjure what your life might have been. A sip of English craft to steady—now see yourself not a glimmer of stone, but a grizzled man of words, as book-smart ladies listen, aflutter with your magnum opus. The unwritten, like a London fog hangs on dang’rous mews, obscures like fingers of a phantom limb to read the secret face in the what-if crypt, where you suffer the eternal doddering of Horace the Lesser, who grasps your ankles as you raise your ink-stained fingers above your head, ready to ascend.
Author’s note: this poem is from the book Cheapside Afterlife (April 2021, Longleaf Press at Methodist University). The book reimagines in 57 sonnets the life of the 18th-century poet Thomas Chatterton. At age 16, Chatterton invented the imaginary persona of a 15th-century poet he named Thomas Rowley and tried to pass off the poems as the work of a previously unknown priest to the literati of London. When that and other attempts to help his mother and sister out of poverty failed, at age 17 he committed suicide. Decades after his death, he was credited by Coleridge and Wordsworth as the founding spirit of Romanticism.
George Rawlins has recent poems in The Common, New Critique (UK), and Nine Mile. He has a BA from Ohio University and an MFA from the University of California, Irvine. His book, Cheapside Afterlife (Longleaf Press at Methodist University, April 2021), reimagines the life of Thomas Chatterton in 57 sonnets.