In Memoriam Hugh Leonard  

Once, aged nine, I called to your door
On Coliemore Road. I was afraid.
In your window was a telescope
Trained on Dalkey Island.
In your driveway, a shining Rolls Royce.

Nobody answered.
Perhaps you were away.
Gulls wheeled and cried in the air.

I had seen your play ‘Da’,
Been moved, enthralled.
The world bursting into life like a fruit.
In the parish hall in Sallynoggin,
The miracle of language
Flowing from the lip of the stage.
Aged eleven, I saw you
In Castle Street in Dalkey.
Stern as a magi.
Grave as Yeats.
You were staring at the sky
As though expecting its translation
To fall like mannah from heaven.

The winter I turned thirteen,
I sent you a letter.
Had fallen in love with writing,
Desired your advice.
My mother insisted you wouldn’t reply,
Too busy, unapproachable; a curmudgeon.

Your postcard was kindly; hesitantly wise.
‘Remember the audience. Be accurate with words.
Write sketches of your friends, your family,
And teachers. And learn to love your craft,
I mean loving the words themselves.
And never be discouraged. It’s hard.’

Thirty years later, I sat in your home
One night when sea-spray lashed the windows.
Your Paule was dead. My mother had died.
We spoke of the gone who are close.

There were ghosts in the room:
Invisible women,
Great actors,
Gilded nights of Broadway glories,
Standing ovations.
Your kindness to a child you didn’t know.

You showed me your study.
Awards and citations on the shelves.
The bodies of old typewriters
In pieces on the carpet.
Turrets of paperbacks. A life.

I think of you now, in the theatre of the clouds,
Smiling shyly, turning away, always looking
For the story. A boy in the streets
Of a seaside town, seeking love
In the mists from the island.



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