“Michaelangelo on Old Age” by Andrew Howdle

This body and house
Are tombs. My aged carcass
Cheats the body-louse
And maggot-fly. The puss

In my wounds escapes
Freely, though the pure soul
Is denied. God’s grapes
Of wrath fit this senile

Flesh, not the goblet
Of Ganymede. No young
Man, in his doublet
And hose, chooses to bring

His fine legs here: I
Make do with spider silk
And those who catch my
Poor vision as they skulk

Through noonday’s shadow
Into light, stepping clear
Of what others throw
Away without a care.

By my door they leave
Dog shit and stinking meals
That crows will not thieve.
Even rats turn their tails.

What a life I lead!
Some days I think I’m dead:
My name has been freed
And given back to God

And His angels. Then
My hearing, without fail,
Starts to ring again
Until a campanile

Inside my head brings
Unfaithful thoughts to prayer—
I curse my clipped wings
And that gloomy affair

Called my natal day
Which I regret fully
And try to allay
With life’s melancholy.

Lust heats our minds in
Youth, makes us seek pleasure
And bodily sin.
Then, in cold age, we are

Left with overcooked
Meat and endless pain that
Urges our conduct
Towards starvation, not surfeit.

There are midnights when
Grappled Tityos-like
To my bed, Amen
Is hard to say: I ache

From shoulders to dry
Kidneys as nailed claws rip
And a mad, black eye
Commands a beak to snap

A friable spine
And tear my will to live.
For an anodyne
I have nothing but love:

Thoughts of those handsome
Forms that I have witnessed
And drawn, men with plumb
Chests and a sense of trust;

Men with proportioned
Limbs and the elegance
Of a fully-sunned
Apollo— whose flesh once

Embodied Plato’s
Music in toned nakedness.
They still give repose:
Ave verum corpus.


Andrew Howdle is a writer and artist from Leeds, UK. He studied English Language and Literature at Manchester University and York University and is co-author of Test Case for All: Equality and Empowerment in Education. He spends his retirement writing, reading, playing the piano and drawing the male form. His poetry has been published in Singapore Unbound.