Breasting the Tape

A poem I wrote about my father, who recently turned 79 and has been showing the signs of a mind and body slowing down and no longer being cognisant of the happenings of everyday life in real time. Not all the time, but enough to be of justifiable concern. It is old age. It is diminished brain function. It is both unexceptional and deeply saddening. It occurred to me that this sometime inability to be present means the company and conversation races away from him. But then he somehow comes back and participates joyfully. This poem tries to guess at what the experience might be like for him.

Breasting the Tape


They’re not where I am, these faces I know.

I am elsewhere, on the sunlit paths of my youth,

jumping, in shorts, over dustbins by the back door,

and escaping. Running. Running. Running. And grinning.


I grin now too, but at what I don’t know.

Asked if I remember, I know I don’t. Too hard

to pull a face from the fog, a name from a bagful of letters.

I offer one thing I do know, and draw my finger from Point A to Point B.


I sag and I slump and I stare into space. I don’t think

I am frightened, but I may appear to be, as someone

who I am sure came from me looks at me

with love and concern. My eyes ask why.


I am certain it is my fault. I am certain I was there.

I am certain I made the call. I am certain I

set the tone, showed the way, lit the fire, gave the push

– and now he is gone. But I’m told I’m wrong.


Mostly, my legs are gone too. Like my memories,

they no longer hold me up in this world. I walk

on kindling – brittle, easily broken – but I don’t

hear the snap and crunch as I stumble. As I fall.


Everyone is faster than me, racing ahead,

leaving me in the chasing pack. But suddenly,

I am back. My legs are strong, my hunger to compete

burns, and I am eating up the ground under my feet.


I see them all, from start to finish. From past

to present. My sons. Their partners. Their children.

My wife. Friends. Family. Animals. Trees. The smoke

in my hand. The drink on the table. The love I feel.


I am running again. And I am grinning too.

I greet them as I overtake. A back-slap. A bum-pat.

I am back in the here and now. I know who I am.

I am running. I am winning. I am breasting the tape.

“Running. Running. Running. And grinning.”

  One thought on “Breasting the Tape

  1. September 29, 2021 at 11:51 am

    Beautiful work Dara. Great photo, very like you. Hard to see those who used to look after us, needing to be looked after – must be so hard for them to accept the change in roles too.

    • September 29, 2021 at 11:59 am

      Thanks Mark. Yes, there’s definitely a shift and no doubt it’s more difficult for some than others. My father seems quite accepting of it, thankfully.

  2. Liz
    September 30, 2021 at 5:35 pm

    That’s beautiful Dara. The change and mismatch of pace so gently expressed. He looks like a man that knows how to have fun. Plenty devilment in that expression. Hope you and your family are well xx

    • September 30, 2021 at 10:02 pm

      Ah thanks Liz, I’m delighted you liked it. Fun has been had, no doubt about it! Hope you and yours are safe and well yourselves. Dx

      • Liz
        October 1, 2021 at 4:18 pm

        All good Dara. Eldest daughter started college which is a little terrorising !! Other two in secondary. Time marches on but won’t complain about that. Dip in and out here and am always moved entertained. Keep going x

  3. Martinne
    October 2, 2021 at 11:59 am

    Love your work Dara and your exceptional depiction of Louis! That photo tells a story as well!
    With love and gratitude always !
    Big hugs to you all!
    Marts 🙏😘🙏💕💕

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