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The truth is that I like the face I’ve got, the way it is.
I like the days when mirrors meet me often; take each chance
To check that I can say, again, ‘Not bad for 52,
For 53... You’re looking good since half an hour ago.
The skin below the eyes does sag a bit, it’s true, and yes,
There is some looseness at the neck. So what?’

Cosmetic surgeons’ bright insinuating knives will not
Come near the baggy, lumpy, veiny bits my DNA
Has programmed for me, readying to bud, to bloom each year
I’ve yet to greet. I won’t let Botox grip my features in
A rictus of surprise the more incongruous now that
I find I raise my eyebrows less and less.

And Clarins, Clinique, Garnier, ingenious mountebanks
Who sigh to women that their youth’s a stuff will not endure
Unless they try this stuff of seaweed, cucumber or birch,
Extracted, potted, packaged, branded, sold: don’t ever think
About a range of extra-firming facial masks for me.
(You have? Do me a favour. Save your breath.)

No instrument, no poison, nor no cream will tuck or smooth
This riddling record of my life away; make disappear
Its evidence of actions, passions, thoughts, conceived and done
In public, private, secret; wipe the marks of love and lust,
Of laughter, anger, concentration, joy in beauty from
The portrait of the accident I am.

Four postcard portraits gaze across my desk: four great old men,
All heroes of the wooden O, the stage, renowned throughout
The little O, the earth. Why should this minor talent seek
To change his even littler O, his face, when Jonson’s warts
And Beckett’s corrugations, Gielgud’s, Miller’s hairless domes
Are promises of beauty yet to come?

My face I wash with soap to keep it clean. Life does the rest.
One derogation from this strict regime I must admit.
My lover hates the hairs which now accelerate from both
My nostrils. I can see her point. We don’t know where they’ve been.
She clips them for me. They’re the only sign of facial age
The world (except for her) has never seen.

Audio file

Listen to this poem — read by the author