Wherein Old Tom, Bent with Age, Imagines – a poem by George Rawlins

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 CommonNew 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.

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