Poem: Theatre of Fools

You laughed as he stumbled and raved,

Lined with grief and mopping his tears:

An actor, yes, but aren’t we all

Learning lines, denying the years?


You laughed as he jumbled his words.

You showed us you read the York notes;

Focussed on drinking your wine;

Selfies for cultural boasts.


You laughed as the mad led the blind:

The alien parent and child.

You laughed as he rode on a broom,

By years and by power defiled.


But Lear’s lostness held flashes of Gran

And the thief who stole half her dear brain,

Who dishevelled and scattered her days

And muddled her John with her Jane.


And Lear’s lostness held flashes of Grandad,

The way that he talked of his mum:

The mum that he lost as a wide-eyed boy.

Still at ninety he longed her to come.


And in Lear’s wild eyes, my Anne’s blind fear

Of things seen, unseen, around her,

As she sat in her new home, not home,

Fighting thought-gaps that threatened to drown her.


Anne needed someone to hear her;

She didn’t know anyone there.

She couldn’t get out in the sunshine.

She spent all her time in that chair.


And then she was gone one Tuesday.

Gone and lost to us all.

Memories and dreams and life long lived:

Now hidden by death’s silent wall.


We went to the theatre on Friday.

Wednesday we fought to end stigma:

World mental health day, progress made,

Your laughter is Lear’s enigma.


But how to respond when we face it:

‘Second childishness’ wears a fool’s mask,

In the slapstick and word play,

The tangles and plaques,

Time dead tissue can’t do what it’s asked.


So next time you chuckle, just picture a day

When you mix up your Mavis with Mabel,

When you lose all the words you are trying to say,

And fall when the world feels unstable.


When you don’t know what happened

Last weekend, last year,

Or who is your son? or what is most dear?

When you look in your handbag

Again and again

But you don’t know what’s gone, or who took it, or when.


Yes, next time you chuckle, just think of that day

And think of the fear of losing your way

And swallow your laughter. Choke on your tears.

Hold out your hand to those with long years.

Hold out your hand til they need it no longer.

Old age is cruel but friendship is stronger.