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When All the World Is Old

John Rybicki

Lookout Books
$16.95 paperback
5¾ x 9           
120 pages
April 2012

At the age of 29, just five years after they met, John Rybicki’s wife, the poet Julie Moulds, was diagnosed with cancer. Here, in poems raw and graceful, authentic and wise, Rybicki pays homage to the brave love they shared during her 16-year battle and praises the caregivers—nurses and doctors and friends—who helped them throughout. He invites readers to bear witness to not only the chemotherapy, the many remissions, and the bone marrow transplants, but also the adoption of the couple’s son, the lifted prayers, the borrowed time, and the lovers’ last touches. A husband smashes an ice-cream cone against his forehead to make his wife laugh. He awakens in the middle of the night to find their dog drowsing atop a pile of her remnant clothes.

The lamentations and celebrations of When All the World Is Old create a living testament to an endless love. Braided with intimate entries from Moulds’s journal, these poems become the unflinching and lyric autobiography of a man hurtling himself headlong into the fire and emerging, somehow, to offer a portrait of light and grace.

Rybicki’s hymns rest in the knowledge that even though all love stories one day come to an end, we must honor the loving anyway. The poet has dipped his pen in despair, but as he cleaves his heart and our own, transmitting the exquisite loss into a beauty so fierce and scalding and ultimately healing that readers come out whole on the other side.


“If you have ever loved, read this holy book. If you have ever grieved, read this holy book. As an angel traveling between the here-now and the hereafter, John Rybicki is blessed with the sacred knowledge of how immediate we must be against the avalanche of time. As a man, he is blessed with having loved so much and known so much love, and with having found the language to marvel at his terrible good fortune.” —Mark Richard, author of House of Prayer No. 2
“John Rybicki is our great true poet of ecstasy. His poems are soulful, enraptured, euphonic, but they are not without the fevers of grief. In fact at the core of When All the World Is Old is the death of the poet’s beloved wife. It is the restless wrestling with the gravity of loss that makes these praise poems rather than elegies, that gives them more fire than darkness. Even the quietest poems here vibrate intensely. They will make you vibrate.” —Terrance Hayes, National Book Award winner for Lighthead
“There must be an element made of both fire and water, because John Rybicki uses it for ink. These poems sear into the heart—and the burning is a baptism. Rybicki has sung his way into the underworld and come out alive.” —Marie Howe, author of The Kingdom of Ordinary Time
“John Rybicki’s elegies break and mend your heart, then break it again. When All the World Is Old is chockablock of authentic, exuberant poems of delight and adoration and loss. Rybicki’s poems of early widowhood, of poet Julie Moulds’s cancer, are gloriously domestic and profound—the straw hats and the stars, the chemo and the cosmos. His rich and unflinching depictions of grief, along with brief passages from Moulds’s writing, tell a true love story through poems.”
—Denise Duhamel, author of Queen for a Day: Selected and New Poems
“John Rybicki ignites the page. . . . I have copied out lines from his poems and kept them on my desk for years; I needed them that close by.”
—Amy Hempel, author of The Collected Stories