Brian Johnson

Self-Portrait on Fortieth Birthday


I spent it alone on the freezing docks (Matthew Arnold said a man’s life is over at thirty).
My mood was lower than ever (Moods are a big influence on our being, Heidegger thought). I
saw my twenties (The Jazz Age); my old girlfriends (Simenon slept with 10,000 women); my
long mornings bent over poems (St. Jerome in his study). In the end, a professorship. I
arrived in time to please my grandparents (Ellis Island passage, 1907). You’re a figure,
regardless of the cost (Marlowe, Doctor Faustus). I seemed slightly larger then, and the
world seemed more promising, higher up (Silent upon a peak in Darien). Now I’m the
only one wondering: when will I set sail, and when will I find that small town
(Jerusalem) among the rocks?