John Tranter


Let’s say the old man lies in bed, very sick.
He listens to the radio, he reads
trash, his sleepy head nods
and the eyelids droop over his eyes.

He takes ages to unscrew
the failed bulb. Match heads
flare and go out. Of all his enemies, none
knows anything like this dull hunger,

which waxes and wanes, but is constant
generally. He looks out the window, but his sight
flickers and fails, and a slow faint groan
comes from him as he recognises the men in parkas

standing around below, staring
up at the blank window and down at the ground.
He’s old, he must be eighty-five or ninety
and his frame looks diminished

by the weight of his crimes and of the world.
His muscles are flabby, his feeble cock
is of no use now, and his long loneliness
gives him nothing worthwhile. In the light

over the mirror he looks ashamed
of the bad things he’s done, his criminal
past, his long, his endless record
of violence. His thin smile excludes

all his true friends, all of that company,
his many lieutenants, his few trusted
pals, his forgiveness excludes each
one of them from his crowd of evil thoughts.

Is that what they call kindness, those ones
spared? He eats a cold slice of pie,
then he cleans the plate and puts it away.
He peels an orange, watching the curve

of the peel drop from the knife with a thunk
into the garbage bin. He tries to sleep,
not because he needs to, but because the world
won’t leave him alone, otherwise.

The watching men simply disappear,
he stares for hours at his cock,
he carefully counts up his various hungers
and shuffles around in a small circle

on the rug. Soon he’ll be just a body,
not a person. Soon he’ll have his rest,
that he deserves. He’s part of the Great Chain
of Being, God at the top, himself a mere X

down at the bottom. He looks at his hand,
it shakes a little. Some days he feels better,
so much so that he wants to celebrate
being alive, celebrate greed, praise gluttonous

appetites… Sure, he’s a little self-forgiving,
who isn’t? The weakness of the flesh
should be forgiven, otherwise the story
of his life would be endless self-recrimination,

what’s the use in that? There’s a noise, some
people in the hall, he should get out
of this death-trap, but he’s a single
man, he has no ‘loved ones’ to go back

to, pleading, hands outstretched,
forgiveness for what? For leaving, for returning,
for the endless dark that follows the slamming
of the door, the door is open, slamming the door shut.


‘The Parkas’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘Desire’ by Stephen Dobyns, Best of the Best American Poetry, page 62.

John Tranter has published more than twenty collections of verse. His collection Urban Myths: 210 Poems won a number of major prizes. His latest book is Heart Starter (Puncher and Wattmann, Sydney, and BlazeVox Books, Buffalo, 2015). He is the founding editor of the free Internet magazines Jacket and more recently Poetics Research, and he has a journal at

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