Tony Jolley

Rookie (17th June 1958 / England)

The Story Of A Life Lost In The Telling

Poem by Tony Jolley


It didn’t look good, that barely recognisable reflection –
Didn’t look at all like it should.
I could barely make me out –
Appeared foreign to myself:
A stranger to all I considered and hoped I might be, might become.

I had caught me like this before
Out of the corner of my eye when I wasn’t looking
Yet always refused to pause
And enter into any painful dialogue with myself.
But not this time.
Not this time.
This time our eyes met: me and me.

The stranger looked, well… weary:
Care-worn and stooped under years of excess baggage
Which hung heavy along the length of both shoulders
Making knuckles white at the weight
And brow too beaten to get its back off the canvas for one last round.

I could just about have taken that:
But not the eyes.
Not the eyes.
The eyes were strangely silent, eerily so,
Speaking volumes sans volume.
There Hurt and Hope waged their wordless war of attrition:
Hurt marshaling a fifth column of hopelessness
With which to infiltrate his enemy’s meagre last lines of defence.

“Put the bags down… For God’s sake, put the bags down.”
I heard a voice plead;
My voice;
“Talk to me.”
Slowly, seemingly unused or perhaps afraid of letting go
He unslung the rucksacks and shoulder-bags
And set them down at his feet.
Most were well-worn with many uncomfortable miles on the clock.
All seemed to bear the prominent tag:

Trying but failing.


Released from the relentless pressure
He grew in stature before my eyes –
Seemed to straighten somewhat: became taller.
The distressed camouflage jacket
Hung so far off his bones
It appeared to have been sized for another soul –
Any other in fact:
Any, other than such as he
Who would only be found, be seen, be known:
Be anything but hidden.

An exercise in pointlessness in the face of dawning consciousness,
He sloughed the tired fatigues to the floor.
Shorn of this ragged layer, he was more recognisably himself,
Yet still adrift amidst an ugly sea of bags and tatters from which he recoiled:
Suddenly he saw they weren’t his, didn’t belong and stared in disbelief at the fact
That they might ever have claimed him as their own,
Amazed and appalled that he must have swallowed their shallow charms
And chosen to take them upon himself in some self-less, mis-guided orgy of doing.

It is one thing to be set free of something, even everything….
Quite another to be freed unto something else.
Absence of pain is just that: absence;
And absence may bring relief, but never, ever joy.
At that thought a momentary panic sought to grip his spirit
And strangle at birth this newborn of freedom:
What if there is nothing left?
What if this scattered, joyless ruin is me –
The life I have squandered myself to make?
What if there is nothing left….
Nothing of value…
Nothing of me?

Into the void inside he threw himself
Silently, desperately in search of the truth:
Not a knee-jerk, sticking-plaster, convenient-crutch of an answer,
But the truth unadulterated;
Which he would accept, though it slay him then and there.

Stripped, naked to the self,
In that place, that holy of holies
Where only the truth may dwell,
He saw;
Saw but one thing:
The jigsaw of his life:
All outer edges and no middle.
Patterns and designs were evident
But they made no sense as they converged upon an empty space
Where seeming thousands of pieces were conspicuous by their absence:
The story of a life somehow lost in the telling.

Hidden under the jigsaw board
He reached from memory for his old treasure chest
Wherein his heart had laid down,
Those things immemorial, eternal:
Those things indivisible from himself:
His mother and father;
His children;
The child he had wished for (and yet strangely had and had not) :
His youth:
They fitted themselves to the jigsaw effortlessly
Yet still the overall picture remained unclear, impenetrable,
As it cascaded into the sense-less emptiness at the core.

One further piece remained in the chest,
Wrapped protectively, lovingly, securely in pristine black and white paper
Reminiscent of all the style and seductive elegance
Of Hartnoll’s dressing of Hepburn’s ‘Eliza’
And of the timelessness of an Ansel Adams print.
Slowly, with reverence, he unfurled the paper,
Admiring the precision creases and folds and smiling at the memory.
Peeling away that seventh veil
Her glory surrounded him.
For a moment he felt it would overwhelm him,
Yet she knew,
She had always known,
Read him like the book she loved,
And as her gentle waves washed over him,
He let go and abandoned himself to her.

Taken by the hand to the jigsaw board
He saw it, saw it whole, for the first time.
He was there
She was there:
In everything.

She completed the picture.
Gave it meaning.
Finished it.
Made it.



The emotions played fast and loose with him:

Shock that she was indeed the answer incarnate
Or shock that he had always known yet failed to admit it to himself, to her?

Confused that he had found her, that she was his answer,
Yet was lost to him in all but memory.

Loved her.
Knew it better than his own reflection.
Recognised it more readily than his own name.
But could she love him?
Would she love him?

Fear of not finding her.
Fear of finding her and finding what he feared most.

The decision was alive in that first moment of truth:
Had no need of the making, the taking,
Had already begun working itself out from the core.

I would find you.
The years and miles would not stand in my way.

I would speak.

You would answer.

The chips would fall where they may.

Comments about The Story Of A Life Lost In The Telling by Tony Jolley

  • Jim Norausky (2/17/2009 9:33:00 PM)

    This is such an incredible poem. Superbly written with intense emotion. The 'puzzle' really works well. It is difficult to put a rating on this one, because it just may be the best poem I have ever read. How can others compare with self exposed so honestly and artistically. Jim(Report)Reply

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  • Fay SlimmFay Slimm (10/13/2008 1:39:00 AM)

    Story it is of a life seen in the moment - and the eyes are truly the facilitator as you so well describe Tony. They, being the window to the soul, took you right through that window - and we, the reader, through with you.... Some beautiful phraseology - I loved the reference to Hartnell's dressing of Hepburn's 'Eliza' - all brought to life, as was your own life. Thank you humbly for this intimate picture, allowing us to 'know' the real Tony a little more. Kindest wishes from Fay.(Report)Reply

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  • Viola Grey (8/4/2008 8:46:00 PM)

    there is an entire life inside this one poem...I am stunned by the simple, yet complex manner you can tell a story and have me captured to the last word...amazing piece...I love it.(Report)Reply

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  • Kevin Wells (5/30/2008 2:02:00 PM)

    Absolutely Brilliant, Tony. I've looked in that mirror on more than one occasion, but have I ever really looked back? ....And, in looking back, looked back...if you know what I mean? ? ?
    Even though it has an epic feel about it, your inimitable style keeps one hanging on till the last line. It feels like this poured out of you and I bet you feel a lot better for the pouring!(Report)Reply

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  • Joseph Poewhit (5/29/2008 3:15:00 AM)

    Poem puts the sugar in the tea well(Report)Reply

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Poem Submitted: Thursday, May 29, 2008

Poem Edited: Tuesday, January 27, 2009