FEATURED POET | Oliver Leech
Oliver is a retired teacher of, mainly, English and philosophy. He has taught philosophy from junior school to adult education level.
He practises calligraphy, struggles to play the clarinet and is trying to complete Offa’s Dyke and bake the perfect date and walnut loaf.
He runs a monthly philosophy discussion group and a weekly calligraphy class, both in Newcastle-under-Lyme. You can see some of his philosophical efforts on www.consciousnessmatters.com.
When he places his foot on my knee,
his eyes gape, prepared to witness magic –
two strands of lace held straight,
a sudden flurry of knuckles,
then, like a kaleidoscope shaken,
behold! A bow shaped out of nothing.
But this is no miracle, only a spell
that will weaken as he grows
until he waves a wand himself.
For of all mysteries
most, like this, are fictions of our ignorance,
to be pulled tight and neatly tied,
an equal bow on either side,
no more than preparation
for the knot of no human tying
that with our clumsy fingers
we must attempt but never can unravel.
I have a dream and I am light
and in my dream I slaughter night
and all the universe displays
the luminescence of my rays.
I shine through crystal drops of rain
and for my mercy I am slain,
but not transmuted into dark
I rise again a rainbow’s arc,
and former glory I forget,
believing I am violet,
or, just as falsely, claim to know
that I am green or indigo,
and, still in error, I forsake
substantial dreams and I awake.
When you opened your eyes this morning,
did you wonder why
the same old bed appeared before your eyes,
same curtains, same wallpaper,
same rug, same chair with clothes piled on it,
same door on the same side of the very same wall?
Did it surprise you?
Did you ask
what held the room together overnight
while you were fast asleep?
For sure you played no part.
Why did it not disintegrate or melt
or crumble, evaporate away?
Did flying buttresses brace it?
Did cherubim stand sentinel?
Did it rest in the palm of an unknown hand?
When you lie in bed tonight
before you fall asleep,
cross your fingers, hope and pray
the self-same force whatever be its name
performs its magic trick again
and keeps a room you recognise tomorrow.
LEARNING A LANGUAGE
In the middle of shopping,
or bathing the baby, or slicing bread,
calls a voice, momentary,
like the least fragment of foreign speech heard
by accident while tuning the radio.
It echoes at unexpected times, haunts,
adhesive like a tune we can’t dismiss.
Night after night we scour the wavelengths,
seeking that elusive station,
then, at last, identify the tongue,
enrol in classes and learn the grammar
(even imagine visits to that land),
hoping in good time to be so adept
thoughts will flow with ease in this
I asked a passing penguin why
his wings lay at his sides unused.
He offered me this brief reply
with due respect though much amused:
‘We penguins are a merry folk
who most of all things love to share
among ourselves some simple joke
to ease life’s weighty woe and care.
Laughter makes us use our wings
to hold our sides in case they split
(especially when men question things
that fledglings in their nests admit).’
‘Of course,’ I answered shamefully
and quickly disappeared from sight.
How feather-brained it was of me
to think that wings were meant for flight!
It is rarely mentioned,
except sometimes at funerals
where, almost drowned by cup against saucer,
it offends and seeps into platitudes.
Or sometimes, striding in the street,
or waking early,
we stop and, for an instant, remember –
one moment’s honesty
against a lifetime’s contradiction,
doomed like a dropped coin
to be swept with the dust and crumbs.
Children ask questions
till humoured, mocked, diverted,
they join the syndicate of silence;
philosophers pirouette around it;
artists, though it sits in their studios posing,
rarely capture it;
and, as for poets,
a few try to define
or hold a mirror at the right angle
but never quite succeed.
HAND IN HAND
I know that it will cause me pain
to hear you round on me again,
but have your fill,
speak what you will;
I have no reason to complain.
I cannot bear you cold and terse
and silences to me are worse;
better the whip
of your red lip
to lash me with a well-earned curse.
Your just reproaches, may they be
mine through all eternity;
with every blow
the more I’ll know
there still remains some love for me.
And when you pause, you shall receive
my promise (which you’ll not believe)
that every day
I will obey
and never more will make you grieve.
The world, which likes love sweet and bland,
can never hope to understand
how we can fight
from dawn to night
yet walk next morning hand in hand.
A LOVER’S DWELLING
A lover’s dwelling is a spotless place:
each day at dawn he rises to wipe clean
his window panes so that his true love’s face
may not through the grime of yesterday be seen.
He will not let the merest speck or smudge
sully the perfect vision of his eye.
No spite inveterate no ingrained grudge
shall ever his unblemished love defy.
And when it is her wonted time to go
from her own dwelling and pass by his door
to his adoring sight it is as though
her loveliness were never seen before.
New-born each day-break is a lover’s view
as fresh and blameless as the morning dew.
If, when the moon, drifting across the sky,
concealed like a patch the sun’s searing eye,
if then we froze and petals folded tight
and rooks went roosting in the sudden night,
if badgers, owls, all creatures of the dark
were rare companions of the day-joy lark,
if this the outcome of the sun’s mere wink,
what might befall if ever God should blink?
Would planets falter and stars lose their heat?
All clocks skip seconds, all hearts miss a beat?
Hurricanes dawdle and earth, like a top,
stumble and tilt till it came to a stop?
Not so. The universe is not a fire
that, lacking fuel, will star by star expire,
no clockwork toy, not Newton’s orrery
that needs a holy hand to turn the key,
no snowflake falling to a soft demise
if God should for a moment close his eyes.
But in that very moment instant doom,
the blackest hole to swallow and consume,
a total vanishing, all stuff destroyed,
no heat, no light, no mind, all dead, all void,
no space, no time would linger – nothing less
than all-devouring nothingness.
IN THANKS FOR TREES
For apple, damson, pear, for apricot and cherry,
For holly and for elder, all trees that bear a berry,
For needles, cones and catkins that hang upon the twigs,
For dates and pomegranates, for persimmons and figs,
For cabinets and pews, for boxes, casks and caskets,
For matches and for hatches, for cane and wicker baskets,
For violins and cellos for basses and their bows,
For shaft of axe and hammer, for stale of rakes and hoes,
For coracles and gondolas, for schooners, sloops and sculls,
All rigging, all rudders, all keels and decks and hulls,
For magic wands and wizards’ staffs, for flying witches’ brooms,
And more prosaic brushes with which we sweep our rooms,
For all the many blessings they unknowingly supply,
(For cradles, beds and coffins in all of which we lie),
But mostly for their beauty of stature, shape and hue,
For trees of every quality our deepest thanks are due.
YOU AND I
You are the blood: I am the vein;
I am the river: you are the rain.
You are the train: I am the line;
I am the glass: you are the wine.
You are electric: I am the wire;
I am the wood: you are the fire.
You are the ocean: I am the bed;
I am the body: you are the head.
You are the journey: I am the way;
I am the script: you are the play.
You are the Pole Star: I am the night;
I am the prism: you are the light.
You are the music: I am the key;
I am the boat: you are the sea.
You are the smile: I am the face;
I am the prayer: you are the grace.