8 Great O's (2003)

8 Great O's (2003)



The text is an adaptation of the last page of a pious biography, ‘The Life of St. Mary tbe Harlot’, written by her uncle, Ephraem, deacon of Edessa, around the year 370.

‘The Word' is a family story.

The Great 0 's' is a term taken from the Advent liturgy.

Leicester Kyle


The Text

sorrow on me, Beloved,
for my dear ones fell on sleep.

I, unapt in will, abide
and behold, winter has come upon me
and the endless storm has found me
naked and spoiled
with no perfecting of good.

I marvel at myself, beloved.
Daily I default and daily do repent.
I build up for an hour
and an hour overthrows what I have builded.
At evening I say
‘Tomorrow I shall repent’,
but when morning comes
joyous I waste the day.
Again at evening I say
‘I shall keep watch all night
and shall with tears entreat,’
but when night comes I sleep.

those who received their life with me:
Agathon Anoub Ammonas Bessarion Chomas Lot and Or,
Doulas Dioscoros Felix Matoes Longinus Zeno and Philagrios,
Gelasios Theodore of Enaton Phocas Poemen and Paul,
Sarah Symeon Serinus Origen Mark Pambo and John,
Chaeremon and Mary the Harlot.

Their minds were never set upon the business of earth.
They with all confidence have gone.




Sorrow on me, Beloved,
for my dear one fell on sleep
as one might upon a mattress of years
unsatisfactory, uncomfortable,
but better than persisting in a cold fog
of failure,

Leaving three homeless dogs
two new lambs
one edible goat
and a cat with kittens
under the bathroom floor,

As well as much unfinished business,
a great deal of rubbish,
and unwashed dishes in the sink,

Which spoke of his circumstance
and of ours,
who watched him decline
into malaise.

In privacy we let him drift
until he fixed upon the reef
where, still amidst the encircled sea,
he sank.


And with all confidence has gone
into uncharted land,
where faith is the instrument,
and hope is with him
from this world

We know will be better,
for there was not much chance here
though room for it.

Faith was his currency
in tickets stars and new-found friends,
but courage often left right out
for weariness.

When things are bad,
while hope is a pleasure,
it’s best to go.

O grand enchanted world
warmed by the breath of God,

restless in the foliage,
like spring.


Our minds are not much set upon
the business of earth.

The clock strikes nine
and the plumber rings
to unblock the sink

He sets the day today.
We set to cleaning

dishes the beds and the sitting room
are all as he left

there’s mould at the overflow
under the sink
moss inside the back door
under the leak
and the fridge is green

The bathroom hasn’t been used
for months

Mess in the fire is burnt to a lump

There are papers and tins
all over the floor
and here
on the shelf
a photograph
of him
Let’s sit
and be at home and quiet
until the plumber comes

and consider

that one could go so suddenly
yet leave himself behind

for when he comes.


I, unapt in will, abide,
bound by sunsets and
rises to this rock,
shackled by life

which lets me live no
where else.

It penetrates flesh,
lights reins veins integuments,

reveals interiors of light,

makes visions of my mind,

traces roots like phosphorous
in the ground,

makes patterns
of weather
to come,

shows a future,

lightens past,

enables a present
by profile
and in the round.

In curious
and indeterminate effect
it lures me
by mystery.

Others move,
leave only grief behind,
their history
in houses like this.


Behold, winter has come upon me.
I am stilled
where once I walked,
and cold
who once was warm.
My sun is slow to rise
and days, like time,
are short.

Kings’ concubines
can’t stir my flesh
nor warm my feet;
the comfort of the customary’s prime,
and my time is arranged
for avoidance of test
lest I prove weak.

Life is diluted now
of consequence and taste.

Things new are no matter—
but if they bring change
they drain strength.

I stay in the sun
quietly, to remember
and re-order history.

Sometimes there’s song
thin in the wind,
in patterns of past.


The endless storm has found me
in conflict of times
- their interpretation
fragments of guilt
- bewilderment
and a great stirring

swirl of doubt
like a rose
in words of delicate sense
around fixedness of truth
and one’s judgement
of the past
of people
faces work hierarchies

Courage now
in the gust of boundlessness
the noise of names

Strength to stand
in the wind
the dust


Naked and spoiled
by weather
which damages
by means of imports
from the aether—

dust mist enervating rays
little bits of asteroid
for chance

that burn and fling one
this and that
to bruise

for the punishment of failure
at not growing right
changing shape from the outline set
and being human at the end
for everyone to see

There’s no hiding the truth
from one who wants to look —
if it wasn’t so cold
we might as well be nude

Let buttocks blush
and toes deform —
truth prevails


From first form
as if the new is innocent
the old value-added
and no accounting for wear and tear
nor credit for effort

The whole of life is escape from youth
its ignorance
the unformed
whose virtue is in promise

I am sick of hope
of looking for what is to be found
and must rest now
on the accomplished

There is vision at the end
of final form
and making it
of small success and delight

Only the weak
have eyes to see the world —

they are washed clear
by grief
and understanding


I marvel at myself, Beloved
wonderfully made
to fabricate eternity
and overcome omnipotence
by thought

By word and note
make heaven in a ruin
paradise in a pot

Look both at once
behind and before
want both to claim
to keep

Find youth in old age
be wise at conception
profound in the artifice
of life

See fear in death
and make each day a knot
a web a woof
not to be undone
revisited at night by dream
by vision in the day
of the unbidden

sorrow on me,
at folly
great as the gift


I daily default
and daily do repent

The logic
that turns the stars
turns me
as inveterately
from day to dark
and back

with contrary affections
immovable connections

and always the likelihood
that on one day
the night won’t come
the scale be tipped
to brightness

To know
I must see
and seeing want to know

O my need for dark!
the comforting of sleep
and to forget
in the night
all the sun sought


An hour overthrows what I have builded;
hope will re-erect it,
my food my floor my building-block
unalterable aether or
the sustenance of self
delight and glory
entrance key perpetual,

by word
in play
by accident

In all these places overthrow
in other places build

in time or out of it
as Origen has writ.

The symbol’s there,
hidden in substrata of the mind

and text-agenda,
written out in youth
and followed with surprising skill
until debility.

Then look back,
in pleasured open eyes
at all I have not done
yet lived,
though in disguise.


At evening I say ‘Tomorrow!’
the disease will weaken.

There will be new leaves unblemished,
strong in the sun
and at work.

There will be new things
the old rubbed clean,
the new just out of ground
first sight,

first use
and perfect
in vigour.

The air will not have breathed before
and water new to wash in,
everything conspiring
in support of fresh endeavour,

firm in will
I will mend and clean
mop and brush
turn resolute.


But when morning comes
joyous I waste the day,
in pleasures that my goat will dance for
as has three times
and never is the now,

which like the rain across the hill
inexorably comes
with rustling,

the sound of sorrow for one
and hope for the next;

they couple
and produce it
for taste.

The others are eternal.

on which I spend myself
the now,
not really is,
though it might fall
silver in the sun
with rain.


I shall with tears entreat
to believe it away,
lest decay make my species
as a medlar
when it blets,

to separate the pure,
lest heat from corruption
make my mind convective,

dulls and drains.

I do with tears,

and not for long,

like those who found
their life with me
who with me now do fade,
who know the latter fragments—
those pieces of light.

in this short time.

Make what is seen
not seen.

Make it nothing.


When night comes
I am full of sleep.
My world is a word at my ear
of half ideas and soothing,

where no choice is made.
Shamefulness comes unrebuked,
initiative runs riot,
memory proceeds
to reconstruct my life
in fantasy or hope,
as I lie still
out of straining.

People use this open door,
come in
and change to subversive desire
in rains of recollection and plastic
tints of brilliant years

in dances of inconsequence,
too like my waking
for question.

My feet are sore;
hands hurt in the palms,
pain in the side
in the head.

There’s no comfort in night;
sleep shallow as day,
poised restless.



Behold those who received their life with me,
acute abstruse and in faith acuminate:

Agathon Anoub Ammonas Bessarion Chomas Lot and Or,
Doulas Dioscoros Felix Matoes Longinus Zeno and Philagrios,
Gelasios Theodore of Enaton Phocas Poemen and Paul,
Sarah Serinus Origen Mark Pambo John,
Chaeremon and Mary the Harlot,

and you who stay
who murmur still,
a low tone,
in some small town with lilac
at the start of an indifferent summer.

My photo holds the news.
You’ll want that information very much,





You must know that I am work,
there is no leisure in me.
The house you see is not unpacked,
we’re living out of boxes
haven’t books or blinds or curtains or
our mats upon the floor.

Work is my being,
and is next door.
When weariness brings me home
and the pain,
I look at you and find
in your yogic pose and innocence
refreshment in fear,
air for breathlessness,
space for a cramped old age.

They were cruel.
I can’t get them out of my sense —
the smell of wet beds
the stink of drains
stale washing
old work piling up never to be done
chafing pants leaking shoes
fire-less nights and half-cooked food.
There was no need for punishment,
each day was harsh enough.

You had a life of it
but we three had hell.

There’s the cause —
she’s lovely, you say,
and she was, in a violent way,
like an alien trying to be mother.



I don’t know how you were taken;
if it was a snapshot you were persuaded
to sit cross-legged,
and you must have been persuaded
to smile like that.

We have no such evidence of joy.
There were good times
that drudgery couldn’t suppress —
our poplars at autumn:
the leaves fell like scraps of celebration.

Sometimes it snowed
and that, like the leaves,
was a sign to me
of a new clean world
showing itself for hope.

Poplars divided the farm into squares.
Each square held its own:
raspberries, strawberries,
boysenberries, gooseberries,
coming in at different times.
Each square held its own surprise -
one might be quiet,
another picker-peopled;
one might have mushrooms in the verge
another a brood of quail.
The sun the wind the rain
made different spaces.
At harvest it was a game
with new moves each day,
and we three boys had company.
At other times we worked alone.



There were mountains
at the end of the road.
They had significance—
for us they were freedom
from fear and fret,
something established
that couldn’t be damaged.

I imagined them in storm.
There was no impediment,
no buildings in the way no trees
no elemental guilt.
There they could rage
flood freeze and drift as they pleased.
Wilderness attracted me,
its feral peace.

No winds blew in our fruit-filled
sun-drenched squares;
they were constrained,
tree-scented, and secured
from the house;
they cleansed our heads
from bed-room stench.
Our beds were never dry.
In those young years
none of us managed
to last through the night.
We were always loosed by worry,
flooding gushing worry,
too scared to get ourselves outside
past the possibility of ghosts,
and paralysed at the thought
that somewhere in the dark
might hide the cause.



There were a lot of ghosts at home.
You might have met some.
I remember when you came once
to stay for a week or two
and you looked frightened.
You spent a lot of time in the trees.
They came snapping at our heels
like a pack of dogs
to tear and scrap,
snarling at the remains.
They were wherever we went:
throughout the house
about the farm
at school at play at the shop —
a surprise in others eyes
a falling tone in speech and look
as if an end were near.
Sometimes it was unpaid bills
mentioned by a friend at school,
talked of at the barber’s,
questioned by the grocer,
argued at a knock at the door.
Next there would be a visit from the family
consequent quiet for a day or two,
then row upon row
of crockery and pots
tears and a splintered door
then bed for them
while we hid out in the farm.

They liked bed,
and made love with strength
as the apocalypse approached,
so eager for comfort
they forgot at times
to pull the blinds.



The worst were from the past.
We didn’t know their names
and they sometimes dodged into the future
from where they could paralyse.
The Present was enough –
it could come in a flash
like typhoid fro the drains
at the back of the shed,
of grey water and black slime.
We were sick of it together
and in the papers.
Nurses came and health inspectors
and a lavatory.

On the other side of home square
and down the whole length of the farm
ran the water race
on the north edge,
outside the trees,
a small ditch fast-flowing
with mountain water from the river
that curved out beyond the paddocks
where the sheep grazed.
We played there in brief secret times
when Dad was away
for reasons never given,
and Mother had so much to do
she did nothing.

Here we learned the elemental lore
of purity and how to kill it,
of water light and air
how they flowed.

There were eels in the race.
We caught cooked and ate one
though we knew that was a wasteful act,
and our motives suspiciously confused.



That water,
sun-lit between the trunks,
and the broad space beyond
of sheep and a wild river,
was an edge of happiness,
the possibility of limit
to the endless jobs always to be done
before and after school —
weeding pruning stacking packing,
putting this away and getting that,
works that began but had no end
and seemed designed entrapment.

They grew feeble in their concerns
in crisis and complexity,
and floundering.
They developed a theology of luck,
on which they based whole futures
and excuse for the past.

Because they had suffered,
reward was imminent.
For this they bought lotteries
and squandered the little they had.

They could have done well —
a handsome couple of good name,
of First Four Ships and past prestige,
but scandals from youth consumed them,
billowed and blew in a gathering storm,
and for disguise took philosophies
of that day —
‘excelsior’ ‘the glory of man’,
all dead as Empire,
affecting but despising life,
fascist but unable to fruit
and blind as a scoured-out road.



Their distracted state disabled them,
so we must grow their berries.
We were kept from school.
They didn’t think of it,
they were too self-absorbed.
All their wrongs were blamed
on outside sources,
nothing on within.
Their own small energy was spent
on strength for their need,
which was a vortex.
‘If only - - - -
you would give,
I would get it done.
If you would give me
a lift
a hand
a gift
your self - - - -
I would do it.’

They were a fog,
in which nothing could be seen
for itself.

They were the criteria
in which values were defined.
Nothing was good true pure.
Love joy sorrow
must be pretended to.

When your photo came to our house
it had to be hid
which I did.
It couldn’t be left around,
and would have been destroyed
for the judgement it made on our house.



a condemnation:
you seated on the floor
in the jersey your mother knitted,
legs crossed
hands on knees
your hair in curls no barber
could make.
You must have been posed
by someone who knew to work space
on that floor
to make you a force
a destiny.

At three you had a currency
and the photo was sent about.
You wear convention now,
are sad and have no radiance,
yet you had a childhood —
in that state I was stateless,
and didn’t know my loss.
I still use you for comfort.
I sit in there with you,
and look out at the storm
that shakes my house,
wears at it and erodes
by grief and doubt and the acid guilt
of never having done
that tedious toil on the farm
and the grey contagion.

They toyed with death,
it was their way,
and I think the way of the times.

All their roads were blind, dead-end,
blocked by bad habit and lost trust,
contagious all
in air by touch in water food
routine converse and rite.



Inheritance too.

Can these necrotic knots be loosed?
By weight and test and taste-by-taste
or turn and re-invention?

In you I look to be reformed,
freed from the strategy of forgiveness
and others we used on the farm,
where each block was an island,
and life was possible between the bushes,
and diverting solutions.

Neither parent knew necessity,
could not recognise
nor catalogue priority.
Sufficiency came of its own
they thought,
directed and anonymous.
Health warmth solvency
were spontaneous;
a house was born with a roof.
Maintenance and forethought
were no true part of life,
nor provision needed for them.
A need a loss a poverty
were discords in justice
and would soon be put right
without effort.

We were set to work in case,
and it seemed reasonable.

The habits learned then haven’t died.
Even now I don’t light the fire
nor keep myself warm by other means
as I don’t know how.
My only skill is labour.



I eat only two meals a day,
am uncomfortable with cars,
uneasy on the telephone,
have no sense of occasion nor dress.
Ours was an unsocial existence,
pressed out of berryfruit.
I still shrink at the business of survival.

You lived in a sophisticated space,
arranged and liable to time.
We knew only light and night,
and seasons with dominant toil.

The sparseness they put around you
was a power;
to seat you on bare boards like that
was to make a Buddha.
Carpet must have been taken up
and things removed
to make a meaning.
He could have put a light behind,
hung a pomp above,
made a baldacchino,
placed a Chinese stand,
but your pose tells the power,
and your grin puts joy
into a personal space.

Mine is a rubbished mind,
of furniture unused
and abandoned rooms.
Some rotting article
is always in the way
and dust puffs in clouds
when I move.



This that I’m in
is my father’s chair.
It’s from my collected past.
He once had ambitions—
kept literary company,
took ‘Oriflamme’,
wrote poems of trees and chiefs
liked books,
and sometimes attended lectures.

Though ignorant
he wasn’t blissful
and was guilty at a fact,
as though it was damaged
by his incompetence.

His world became a carnivorous place
where nothing was safe
and disguise was mandatory.
He was afraid of sleep
lest the unknown come by,
and for that reason didn’t read,
yet there were the books,
all over the place,
against the walls
and under stairs,
which he had collected
as another man might cars,
for something to do
when it’s wet.

We had a choice of these
on stormy days,
and sometimes the gramophone.

Music and the written word
became for me the world,
and my necessary life a dream.



In books, people did normal things;
home was the fantasy,
thinning as it wore out
and the printed word showed through
in debt collectors angry friends
and police.

Our things were sold for food
and necessary bills.

It grew dark and dry
in the desert they made
from a sand of crumbs
and remnants.
There was no refreshment.

It became that they lived
as if they were visiting,
not as others did
but wandering
from one shadow to another,
out of home in each
and always on the wrong side
of the veil.

As the saint condemns the hedonist
by his own existence,
so they did to life,
making it unworthy
by their own example.
Death seemed to them a seductive fate
(like a prostitute’s glance from across the street)
an easy state,
that rest is best
and death a well-made bed,
this life a waste,
and that a proper end.



My life is out-of-date.
I’ve done most of those things
a man is to do
and learned to do them fittingly,
but I’ve not the graces you were given.
You were born in a temperate world,
and in spite of age
still move in it with confidence.
You’ve tamed the beast.
You expect a reasonable mean
as your parents did,
and like them know
to make it happen.

Mine died petty deaths
as if from ill thrift
or wilt before the wind.
He first,
in bed one afternoon.
She went soon,
from loneliness.
They left lively guilts behind.

No one of us looks back
and sees the same,
so I keep to work
and make it my script,
and for safety’s sake my eyes
and ears
all mine,
not theirs.

I don’t read newspapers
nor have T.V.
but sometimes the radio.

I no longer need to know.



Work is my frame.
It holds together
all those things that make me,
which fall to other gravities
when a man hasn’t a centre.

And you are in a frame —
in that photo,
already all that could ever be.
Look at that elbow,
that angle,
it knows what to do
it holds in readiness for the moment
to jump from pose to act,
in fulcrum force and furious
if need be;
and the wrist —
it’s tensed for persuasion,
there’s no slack.

You were at the heart of being.
Nothing’s stationary in your frame.
Though only three
you’re a host of philosophies,
a child as proof of God.

It’s another force
that mass-produces
slaves and servitors like me.

I hope I am not stricken in my sleep,
that I am seduced by death
and know it before it comes.
Then I can go kindly,
but not before I’ve unpacked;
I would not want to go
and leave the house like me
skeletal, before its time.




O Anoub
of the seven brothers,
who does not lie

Teach me to hold at the end
before my past,
which stands now an angel at the gate

My eyes must recognise and I
must see there my youth,
and self interpret

to order
in the telling

fearless as one must before the fact
of immolation,
though some do shred
and others eat the consequence

which is in fire made
not for destruction

is proved in nature,
and bears my lineaments cast
as I have made them

It is in the way of understanding
and is to be mapped by line


O Doulas,
friend of Bessarion
who made the water sweet

Make good in me the bitterness
brewed in spleen and stored there
by negligence
heaped and soured

I’ve long thought in anger
have sorted out and ordered the events
have justified my own blamed theirs
wept rivers of resents

I’ve stood on dignity
my rights the right of wrong
and spent life spendthrift

Benefit me,
spoiled and
now near winter’s end

Before darkness takes
show me the light of life
its balance boundlessness and bright
perfection of body space and

Tire I do
of the fire


O Phocas,
who spoke with James the fornicator,
note my body,
its ability

to do as bodies do
and are made for

Note the leg,
how it is turned
to enviable speed and utility

The genitalia,
of proportionate size

Both belly and buttock
one flat one round for use

The chest
with its pectoral cast

The arm of purpose
the prehensile thumb
of muscles and joint
to reach hold to take defend
and balance calisthenically

The neck
of arrogance

O Phocas
note the neck,
the head upon it


O Gelasios,
whose book was stolen and returned,
show me peace
for the sight of it

To sit
at the end of the day
and watch as it nears

To sleep
as it runs on its bed

and wake
as it rises

Come forth from the house
and let me look

To own it so invaluable!
is more than I might ask,
but let me a passing glance
a touch a taste a sound

Some have killed
and lost for ever

some have stolen
and not held

but I at the end of these past years
who have laboured with no thought of it
beg now for this reward


O Agathon,
who talked with Amoun Macarius Joseph and Peter,
give me voice

I speak as if there is no-one to hear

My words drop
like a stone in a pool
and widen, widen silently
until they are lost

and my voice is flat
as a lake

Though each word is a choice made
for exactitude
and the thought precise

there’s nothing to answer,
they are declared
pronounced from above

O Agathon
give me air
so my words might breathe

give me spirit
to impart

then I will speak
to a face to mind and soul

each thing I say will have life in it
to question, to reply

and will make people


O Serinus,
who was sustained by God
in harvest sewing and weaving,
curious are the claims

So many
have gone before

so many
yet to come

and still we are incompetent

Nothing is effectively conveyed
and I
in my trouble
find no guide

I only am flesh
with all around in shadow

There are no maps of my land

I must blaze hack and make direction
as if this street is wild,
and leave no sign
for none will read it

though they follow

It’s the same path for all,
from life to death
posterity between

though none
at the first
believe it so

Show us of what we are made

Show us to what we come


O Matoes,
give me a word
that is identifiable

There is much that has no knowledge of its own,
that floats and masquerades
as this or that
while I,
anxious for the truth,
say ‘yeah’ ‘spot on’
and ‘cool’

Best take trash than starve

Some say ‘Love Yourself’
others ‘Love your Neighbour’
some ‘Affirm’,
but nothing changes

no philosophy from over the sea
nor strategy for support,
which comes like the advancement of weeds
to hide scrap
ground cover

One word,
as Yes or No in truth,
will make hard standing

one word
to replenish and refresh


Ho Felix Lot and Or!

If God should visit you now
what would you do?

Don’t speak without necessity,
watch carefully
each flame purify

Sit as it rages by
and play
something grand—
a coronation glee
a wedding of the Doge

(it’s to the sea you must go
for succour)

You have the limitations
would weep and go home,
for you have no prescription of to be

then the winter comes upon you
and the storm

Be gracefully
for that is something you can do,
and gratefully

as if the world had reasonable soul


© Leicester Kyle, 2003

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