Harvey O’Leary was born in Cork, Ireland. Since graduating from University College Cork, he has lived in London, working as a teacher and educational manager. He has published articles and poetry, and a play, Closing Time, which he co-authored, was staged at the Battersea Arts Centre, London. He published his first novel Nidiya and The Children of The Revolution in 2010.
As you've asked –
Above my bed, a shelf of books,
And a radio clock and a plastic yellow rose
(You doubt the details - I’ll send you the Instagram!).
The books are not packed together, upstanding, or leaning like sleepy soldiers,
Organised by subject, author, or even size;
With the last to be read on top,
They sit in a sloppy pile, an ill-constructed tower,
That rises above the radio and the rose in its narrow vase,
And could topple at any moment.
The titles? It would embarrass me to say
(What we choose to read is somehow giving too much away)
But I can tell you, as I lie here planning the rest of the morning,
There is nothing neat or coherent
About this babel of books.
At the House of A. Frank
The burden of a halo
Even for a secular saint.
I guess Anne Frank would have tossed it aside,
As we do with childish things.
She would have grown bored with the toy town of an Old Town,
Confiding her resentment
In the pages of a lost diary.
And finally, she would have said enough is enough,
Gone out and crossed one bridge after another
Till she came to one blazoned with crimson.
The hot air balloon's
grey deflated canvas lies
like a patch of snow
in a field of snow.
Around and about
from the distance it surveyed
people come hither
as hopeful as thaw.
Drowning, not waving!
The winch of words lifted us
To end our struggle.
Like the sea-rescued
Survivors, drenched, dripping,
We spin towards the sun.
Editor's note: Although I generally seek short and medium length poems, I made an exception in the case of Harvey O'Leary's A Skeleton Goes in Search, Read it -- and you'll understand why.
A Skeleton Goes In Search
It comes to a life of sorts
In the echoing chamber of an underground station,
Rattles the cage of itself
For it is no more than the sum of its bars,
Feels the wind chill through the slates of the bone
From the draft of commuter trains that pass like scars,
And stumbling from the darkness of the ground
Goes in search of something more than itself.
It finds it on a train
On the bones of fellowless passengers
To whom it presents the vacancy of hollowed sockets,
Which is returned in abundance
With a dead-eyed staring indifference.
No one seems to care
Between one station and another.
The carriage hurtles along while the minds drift
And the faces betray no need of comfort.
The skeleton imagines their distress
At seeing their own reflection,
Takes what it can and tries to respond
But the gaping space between jaws is expressionless.
The day is cold for the sun is useless.
But the skeleton, dressed, has taken to the High Street.
Hoisted and pulled, it moves in a mincing marionette fashion,
As if it were learning to walk for a second time
And trying out its legs like parts that had just been attached.
At first, few people pay it attention
And it sifts through the crowd like one of the crowd.
But the crowd thins and slows down to take it in,
A skeleton that has gone in search of its lost flesh.
A baby chuckles as it passes
But cries as it pauses.
The skeleton hurries along, ricocheting
From one daft mother and child scenario to the next
As if stoking several fires or playing with a pile of tottering plates.
How these hate-filled women
Think of no one but themselves and their ungrateful progeny
When threatened by a bundle of bones in a dirty overcoat.
Their menfolk are just as ignorant
With nothing really to say
Beyond what is inked on their brazen bodies,
The slogans and promises
Of a love that endures as long as it’s broken.
And before the words become unintelligible
As the flesh slackens and droops
Their bald babies will have learned them by heart
And these are the only words they will ever be spoken.
The skeleton is alone, wraps itself in more rags,
Settles in the shadow of a doorway
With a bony hand outstretched that can rattle like a tin.
It watches people in shops
Passing coins from one hand to another.
Money keeps them together;
They can never afford to be without it.
Even those that deign to pause
Count out their pennies
With plush upholstered hands that might have been more generous.
When nothing is happening
The skeleton sees what’s really happening in the street.
There is a kind of silence
In all the joyless traffic of noise
As strangers audition each other
And familiars spread the same rumours about their own lives.
Above the din, as if in bold translation,
The bright street signs ply the usual lies.
Taxi cabs and buses pass. They may as well be driverless
For all the dreams of rioting and bloodshed.
Their drifting cargo stare into the street
Blind to the sight of a skeleton wrapped in clothes.
The light too passes and the streets become deserted
By those who visit from time to time but have gone home.
Assembled in doorways or stretching out on benches,
Ghouls, who haunted designated addresses,
Meet the eyes of strangers with a token of their own grief.
If they don’t live in the dreary here and now
They wander down the roads of the splintering past
For which lines are prepared but can never be cast.
The skeleton walks among them and wonders
At what can be can be said
About what cannot be said.
It is inexorably sad,
These lives reminding lives of what they once had.
The skeleton divests its self of its rags and walks naked,
No longer in the throes of woes and others’ lies.
The light is orchestrating one more dawn
But listening to the tweet of early birdsong
It can hear the cries of a flagrant dusk.
©2014 Harvey O'Leary