Thursday 28 February 2019

The Rattlesnake


First meeting with the rattlesnake he damn near swallows me whole, or my contract anyway. It comes out regurgitated and way short of my mortgage repayments. I tell him to hiss off.
Then there is the itinerant in my class. Never brings a book to school. What’s to say? Where’s your book Mary Lou? By the side of the road. Me ma used it to swot flies. What book? Silas who? Never heard of him? No point in sending Mary Lou to the office for a new one. She’d skip class. Mary Lou exhibits behaviour peculiar to many teenagers and not unique to travellers but when the snake hauls me into his pit to accuse me of discrimination against a member of an ethnic minority group and political incorrectness to boot, I nearly jump down his jaws.
Give her another copy of Silas Marner to lose! Let her share and snigger and distract! Make an exception! If you bend the rules, I hiss back, you end up with holes in them. He drools spite and spittle all the way across the table, out the door and on top of my retreating figure at the foot of the stairs.
Then he starts hissing at my classroom door. On the hour. Tail coiled around a folder replete with excuses for being there.
Colleagues suggest Union intervention. I say lawyers are boa constrictors; they would swallow me whole.
Battle enters phase two. Drum rattling, skin shedding, tongue flicking. I shed pounds. I may eat my own tail soon but it’s a fight to the death.
Then I reconnoitre. Need a new paradigm, a planning construct that will allow me to deter and seize initiative. …….

Place large placard outside my classroom door.

Snakes out!
Recording in progress!
Enter at your peril!
Up Saint Patrick!

Thursday 21 February 2019

The Gathering

March 2003

Sand dusted skies behind me
Storms in the offing
I drive eastward to you

angsting about minor transgressions, venial sins. You want a confessor

On TV ward screens war whoops are rising to a crescendo. Iraq is on the brink 
There’s a bus bomb in Haifa. A car bomb in CĂșcuta

I tell you that Moses’ tablet didn’t outreach to your sins
You are adamant

North Korea is testing short range missiles in the Sea of Japan
Castro is re-elected. Chirac is visiting Algeria to make atonement

We don’t talk of funeral plans, cremation or burial or hymn sheets or readings
How do I say, “Mother, you are dying”?

You know
I know you know
The unspoken muffles the spoken

Sars has hit Canada, UN personnel are withdrawn from Iraq. Missile strikes begin

You ask, “Is it happening?”

Meteorites are exploding over Chicago, Illinois, the Mid West
The sky is raining fragments of shattering stars. The storm has arrived

and you are slipping away

 Copyright with Cathy Leonard 2019

Friday 8 February 2019


Northern Ireland circa 1962

Pagni's wife would jiggle and shuffle the bag
as she added salt and vinegar
like sand sifting, boulders shifting
invisibly towards landslide.

I ate from the sodden bottom of the pack
as I stood at the corner of the Square
watching cats in McAleer's basement window

Overshadowed by the stolid Ulster Bank
and further back the Royal Ulster Constabulary
and higher still the razed ground of O'Neill's Castle
where rain clouds were once again gathering.

Copyright with Cathy Leonard 2019

Wednesday 6 February 2019

Winter Trees

Trees in winter. Wish I could sketch those gnarled blackened barks split down the middle.
Siamese twins warring with each other.
Tai-chi masters;gathering the stars;bowing to the moon
Shadow boxers
Shadow dancers.
 For some lovely sketches and paintings see Marie-Helene's Blog

Tree in Winter

Stripped bare of leaves and illusions
I take the brunt of winter gales
And though you do not see the moment
when I shift my limbs, fraction by decimal fraction
to better bear the weight of leaf and loss
You will see me any winter’s day
Offer my mute twisted appeal to the sky

Copyright with Cathy Leonard 2017

Tuesday 5 February 2019



I hear the phone ring. I’m in the back kitchen. I know that by the time I reach the front hall door where the phone sits the caller will have hung up.
“Can you get that?” I roar to my husband who’s better positioned. “Though it’s probably Emily again,” I add.
Stephen is half deaf. Too much cold water in his ears. Too much sea swimming to be precise. Both of his ears were lopped off by the experts years ago, but whatever sort of botched job they did he can’t hear with his right ear. That means he always has to sit at your right hand side, walk at your right hand side, no matter what- if he wants to hear you, of course, which isn’t always the case given the way I’ve taken to rambling on. He shuffles down the hallway and into the kitchen.
“Was it her?” I ask.
“It was nobody.”
“It had to be somebody.”
“They hung up.”
“That’s not good! Maybe burglars checking if we are here!”
“I don’t think they do that.”
“I’ve heard of it.”
“You’ve heard of everything.”
“Made it up is what you mean!”
“That too.”
He sits at the table and pulls out the crossword.
“It was probably her,” I say.
“Four across. Songs of … and Experience? She rang this morning so I doubt it.”
“Innocence. She often rings two or three times a day.”
“She must have nothing else to do.” We both laugh at this. “Innocence? How did you know that?"
“William Blake. I think she’d have better luck on one of those sex lines,” I say.
“And what would you know about those?”
I think about her voice. Low. Seductive. Husky collusive whisper.
“Have you ever actually listened to what she has to say? Maybe if we listened the whole way through she’d give up. We’re not engaging with her,” I say.
“To engage could be fatal. Nine across- moneylender who charges exorbitant interest.”
“How many letters? Given that it’s clear we don’t want to hear her side of it, why doesn’t she just give up? It must be evident to her. It must be frustrating!”
“I don’t think she has feelings, love. Six letters.”
“Tell that to the sex -line chatters.”
“Well, she’s not calling about sex. I’ve gleaned that much. She’s after money.”
“Usurer. Do you suppose we have to pay every time she calls? Like it’s reversed charges?”
“She’s calling from Stillorgan. We have free local calls.  No, it’s not that. Usurer? Are you sure?”
“How do you know she calls from Stillorgan? Our nine-ninety-nine yoke from Woodies doesn’t show caller ID.”
“She phones Ann too. She says it’s always a local number.”
“Well, that’s a relief!”
“A relief to know she’s harassing somebody else?”
“Usurer, like Shylock. Not much in use, but keep it in mind. Maybe Emily’s a usurer.”
“A new service provider?”
“How many letters?”
“No, I mean Emily!”
“What kind of service? That’s the question.”
“Questionable service!” We both chuckle.
“Still, if they used an actual person instead of a pre-recorded tape at least you could tell them to sod off." I say
“They’ve done that. You’ve done that. Persuade with promise of reward. Five letters.”
The phone rings.
“Definitely Emily!”

Copyright with Cathy Leonard 2019

Sunday 3 February 2019


I'm late for Brigit's Day but am posting these couple of poems again.

Brigit’s Cross

Its strength lies in the fold.

You bend the rush firm and hold,
finger fasten it to the centre
Turned clockwise and returned,
again and again, it’s the last rush
that decides if your lattice will hold
or fall apart or hang slack
woven through with chinks of light.

At Imbolg

Stooped to the rhythm of sickle
we gathered rushes from the bog.
Or, with our hands, pulled stems
that raised wheals and reddened palms.

We lay them in piles and folded
and turned and turned and folded
until we made a centre
that would hold.

Not knowing then that she was daughter of Dagda
Celtic Goddess, Crone turned Maiden each Spring
and that we were cutting deeper than bog
i mbolg, at imbolg.

Copyright with Cathy Leonard 2017

Friday 1 February 2019

The Bully

For weeks now he had been harassing her.

 Their first interview had gone badly. He had suggested that he might change the nature of her contract and had offered her someone else’s job.
She had stated that it wasn’t in her nature to rise at the cost of someone else’s fall. The teacher he was proposing to drop from the programme was more skilled than she was, had been there longer etc etc.

She’d taken the moral high ground. That had been a mistake. She had cast him as a petty tyrant wielding his sword and herself as some truth crusader. It wasn’t a good fit. She didn’t even like the teacher in question and the feeling was mutual, but she disliked the new principal even less.

Then there’d been the discrimination problem. Sarah, a member of the traveller community, never brought a book to the English class. Kate had allowed her to share with another pupil for days, but enough was enough.

“Didn’t you get a copy of Silas Marner, Sarah?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“If you go to the office the secretary will check up on it.”
“Like now?”
“Now would be good.”

The teenager struggled to her feet, made a great din about manoeuvring out of her seat, knocked over a book or two and slammed the door on her exit. She didn’t return to class that period.

Kate checked with the secretary. Sarah hadn’t gone near the office.

A week later she sailed into the classroom, still bookless. Kate reckoned that a confrontation would be entertainment for the rest of them and serve only to prolong this agonising trawl through nineteenth century literature. Kate refrained from asking the question. But Sarah wanted to make a point.

“Miss, I don’t have a book. The secretary wasn’t there the other day. I waited for ages.”
“That’s not what I was told, Sarah.”

But Kate had an alternative strategy in place. She pulled out a copy of Silas and gave it to her.
“Now you have it. Page thirty three….”
“You think of everything, Miss.”

Sarah didn’t take part in much of the discussion. She was chewing gum. It’s forbidden, of course, but frankly Kate would rather they chewed gum than disrupt the class.
“They’ll all be chewing it tomorrow!” warned a colleague.
Quiet class! Could do with that. “Let them chew gum,” Kate declared. “Vive le gum!”

But next day Sarah arrived minus Silas.
“Forgot it,” she muttered by way of excuse.
“Well, that’s a pity because you can’t share with Emily.”

The sharing exercise usually resulted in low key chatter, a background hum Kate could be doing without.

“Not fair!” Sarah announced.

That day the principal hauled Kate into his office and accused her of discrimination against a traveller. She laughed in his face.
“What I said I would have said to any student.”
“You needed to be more sensitive in this case.”
“I need to treat her exactly the way I treat the others."
“What’s the problem with sharing books?”
“Maybe you should go back to teaching and try it out.”
“And you didn’t check up on her when she didn’t return to class.”
“What? and leave the rest of them sitting there twiddling their thumbs or worse! She’s over sixteen. Not an infant.”
“She doesn’t like you. Now there’s another problem.”
“Do you honestly think I care if every student I teach likes me or not? She’s not the first and won’t be the last. I’m not listening to any more of your drivel without a union rep present.”

She probably shouldn’t have called it drivel and referred to it specifically as his. She was on her feet and heading for the door. He was apoplectic, face beetroot, looking like he was mid seizure. When she was half way down the stairs he was still yelling after her, to the great amusement of a group of students on morning-break.

That’s when it started. The door knocking, the interruptions. She had hardly begun any lesson than he was at the door calling the roll, checking up on a student, asking about fire alarms, school surveys, parent teacher meetings, exam reports. He had an endless repertoire of spurious excuses for being there.
Sometimes he repeated this exercise a couple of times during the period. And on it went.

“I could go to the Union. It could end up in High Court. It could rumble on for years and swallow up my life. Lawyers could get fat on it; I could get thin,. They could bring in legislation declaring that: Students must be allowed to share books in school! Why not a referendum?  It could cost the Irish tax payer a small ransom! ” she declared.

 In the end, like Paul on the road to Damascus, she had an epiphany. She made a large poster that declared:

Recording in Progress.
Do not enter.

They did actually do some recording and since several programmes required it and since he hadn’t a clue about any of the programmes, it worked.

Copyright with Cathy Leonard 2019