Portrait of a Man

Did I really write this? This is a hospital poem—one that shows me how I've changed. It's dated two months after the accident, and it seems to have been written on another of my introspective days.

He was a complex character
And I never really knew him.
I could never see exactly what he was,
And he could never tell me.
He never seemed to be doing much with his life.
He was usually happy, especially when he was with friends,
But at times (decreasing in frequency as he became older)
At the drop of a hat
A screen would come down
And he would be in the blackest of moods.
Often he gave his parents hell.
I'm sure they must have sometimes thought of giving up
Trying to understand him.
It was a strange relationship,
But they loved him, and he certainly loved them.
An outsider looking in might have seen
A kind of love-hate relationship,
And it's hard to say whether this impression was right or wrong.
He was a man of many parts, and many contrasts.
He had a wide range of interests,
But often hated and despised the interests of his contemporaries.
He loved travelling, but disliked living away from home.
He loved driving, but could never relax in a car.
He loved some forms of music, but couldn't tolerate others.
He appreciated good films and plays, and believed in censorship.
On the other hand he disliked most sports,
And football and fighting in particular.
He was very individualistic and independent in some things,
But often felt that he needed someone to lean on.
He had a wide circle of friends,
But only a few very close ones.
These close friendships were made forever,
And lasted through thick and thin, good and bad.
They were happy friendships,
And beneficial to both sides.
Most of his friends and relations respected him;
Some thought him rather boorish and childish at times,
While some of his contemporaries thought him rather square and old-fashioned.
On the whole, however, he was well liked and respected.
He often liked to know what others thought of what he did and said,
And what they did say pleased him if it was favourable,
But didn't affect him if it was unfavourable.
He disliked criticism,
But was willing to listen to it.
When he asked advice, he listened,
But seldom followed it.
He preferred to make up his own mind—
Even when his decision quite often proved to be wrong.
He professed to be a Christian,
But, although he never seriously questioned his faith,
He did sometimes wonder.
Sometimes he thought it might be easier to forsake God and the church
And live as he liked,
But his conscience always brought him back.
Although a complex personality,
Forever trying to understand himself,
He preferred the simple things in life.
He disliked what he thought was pretentiousness.
He wouldn't be seen dead in a dinner suit,
And he turned his back on large chrome-covered cars
And fancy hotels and restaurants.
He wore casual clothes,
Drove a functional, if cheap, car,
And if he ever ate out, it was in some small cafe.
Although he often wondered what he was doing in life,
He never considered himself a failure,
And usually managed to remain happy and optimistic—
Both in his own life, and the state of the world in general.
He had a fine sense of humour
And a great sense of fun and the ridiculous.
He could usually see the funny side of a situation,
And often had a good laugh at himself.
He didn't believe in luck,
And although things often seemed to go wrong for him,
Or go against his plans,
He took things as they came;
Never considered himself cheated If something didn't turn out quite right,
And never lingered long over his mistakes.
He tried to make the best of whatever situation presented itself.
In many ways his philosophy was admirable,
Although he sometimes questioned it
(Indeed, sometimes wondered whether he had a philosophy)
And it probably would have appalled many people.
He generally kept out of controversial discussions,
Usually keeping his thoughts private.
He disliked arguments,
And if he and a friend disagreed violently about something,
He tried to turn the conversation before an argument ensued.
He didn't consider himself a snob,
Although others may have thought him so at times.
On the odd occasions that his name appeared in a newspaper
He was delighted,
But generally disliked publicity—
Preferring to remain settled and secure in his anonymity.
He was conscientious
And in some respects, something of a perfectionist.
He could have been said to be lazy,
Although he would have tended to disagree.
He would agree that he was often guilty of procrastination,
And many times tried to become organised
In order to overcome this problem.
He worried constantly,
And tried hard to overcome this particular problem, too.
Generally speaking, however, he was a normal, well-adjusted person,
With few personal problems or worries.
Some people thought he was mad, or strange.
Others thought of him as a sensible, mature, thinking adult.
In some respects, though,
It could be said that he was unusual.
Maybe he was,
Maybe he wasn't.
He was a complex character
And no one ever really knew him…
Not even himself.

• Written 29 September 1970. Copyright © 1999-2010 Alien Son. All rights reserved.

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