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Douglas Oliver, 4 December 1986

... The skin takes colours after middle age, an elbow flakes, one ankle always raw, a shoulder wart, sebaceous stains on backs. We think we’ll pulse an innocent energy outwards, a warmth from the heart, a skin cleanser, but think of some sin of years before and whisper, ‘May I not be spiritually deformed! ...

Hard of Hearing

Douglas Oliver, 12 January 1995

... When the painter died the people in her painting stiffened a little in their oils: my sister’s two friends from art school, dressing in her bedroom. An oval mirror caught in the arms of a pink rattan chair reflects Mona’s bed too high slanting down from an unstable wall in the uneasy Browning Avenue house. Her visitors peer intensely when I ask if they want breakfast, seeing my childhood from the angle of rounded womanhood as if that made them hard of hearing ...

A Little Night

Douglas Oliver, 23 May 1996

... A word to come lies in a little night where ash is falling. The word can’t be this ‘coffin’, lying in its candour, in its cinders. Inside, the poet’s too lazy in his death to perform a truth singly. All’s ambiguous. Yet a coffin is blocked in boldly, I see, under the washing down of night. The cobalt blue cabinet’s cut on a slant with candelabra making mirrors along its sides peopling it with mourners, delegates from the governments of poetry and from their industries, who appear only as reflections of shoulders ...


Douglas Oliver, 1 August 1996

... A purple-haired woman with a paper handkerchief for a face runs down the rue des Messageries. Between the perspective of buildings tall crane idle against the lines of morning and a doleful green lion with navy-blue eyes tattering down to emerald wraiths dissipates its body in smoke. Among the stream of Lubavitchers this Saturday from the synagogue comes a half-transparent gesture with a hand that turns in mid-air and comes back boldly dark blue ...

Two Poems

Douglas Oliver, 7 May 1998

... Chinese Bridport Then the morning shadow falls, suddenly slanting down monstrous apartment blocks at Porte de Choisy and its Chinatown, over a piazza of pagoda-style kiosks. Diaspora money with its huge fist has thrust buildings into earth here, cliffs of them with mud-coloured balconies and strata of pallid walls. Knocking from his heights, an Asian fixes a lathe and he knocks at my heart till morning shadows slant again down Bridport’s cliffs, an early time in England by a calm sea, a place to start poetry from ...

The Oracle of the Drowned

Douglas Oliver, 4 February 1988

... Memory in sea-green with sea-weed grain of glass as the rearing wave rains briefly before a lot of bother on the beach of childhood and men with a burden file across sand. Those far-out surfaces are lipped with transparent phrases coming to mind: that the real dying happened in middle heights between the lips and the sea floor. Remember the swim trunks lost in waters and the first man in our lives who drowned, this, now, his cortege from the tide-edge, the sacred hanging-down of head and arms, seeing that person’s white groin cooked chicken bared near the hook of the ribs and a shore-line of horrified children arrested in their digging to gaze at seas of such corruption as to change him ...

The Innermost Voyager

Douglas Oliver, 22 March 1990

... Jetliners climb above the middle air of spiritual journeys: flying in dreams is usually humanised and takes the shaman route of older beliefs. Once, in a train derailment, I bore my sense of self so lightly it yearned for those middle heights. Probably, when dying, we rise above and see nurses acting in perfect democracy. We’ll not romanticise shamans; but whatever our job or class there can always be some dream train where we’re squashed in by fuzzy-featured companions; and one is this other kind, a spirit-voyager: think of a tree bole robed in furs, a wooden bear mask that nearly speaks ...

The peculiar river

Douglas Oliver, 23 September 1993

... Last time I wrote of Parisian loaves newly baking because the yeast was in my nostrils from the rue Lepic bakery beneath. Now I’m lost in Scotland, my grain of truth. Across bare floorboards of this home in Paris the thistle of Scotland’s nationhood crosses like a swift stain. Never to know Scotland perfect/imperfect wanting to bring Scotland to Paris in my work ...

Two Poems

Douglas Oliver, 10 September 1992

... Pine Waking early, and riffling the pages of a book edge-on to watch the ghost pass through, thinking of the sexual opening of pine needles, the woman being absent from that opening; this is not desire but idleness as you might wake with legs around you from a dissipating dream, whose story came from a fiction you’d been reading. And then to turn to the woman beside you discovering pine scents in her caress her hair last night shampooed, though you remember real pines too from the ghostly story of childhood when you lay on the needles’ beddy springfulness, wondering about women ...

The Unseeing Drum

Douglas Oliver, 22 December 1994

... If I drummed on the long Dahomey tambour, I’d be bumbling, blind in ludicrous Western clothes, that tambour’s wooden tubes stepped at the foot like a half-closed sea captain’s telescope; I’d be drumming of old things I can half-see: of bamboo- stilted houses elongated by water reflections as if I were paddling to the floating market of Ganvié while fishermen cast nets in jelly-fish patterns ...

The Jains and the Boxer

Douglas Oliver, 31 August 1989

... 1 The Jain monk would live in unending harmlessness, shedding karma, confessing, studying for the fasting death. He avoids quarrels and politics, may not repair three unmended garments, nuns four, has rayaharana, the hand broom of wool or grass, to clear living things from his path, a cloth to wipe animate dust from his face and to prevent such beings entering mouth or nose ...

Taking stock of woods

Douglas Oliver, 17 December 1992

... Grey cloud roof sliding backwards lifts blue sky into the notch between hill-lines green au gratin. Pom-pommed, the slopes barge trees into valley turbulence. Along the summits, sunlit topknots. down to mid-distance, puffs, explosions, uprisings, striking tall, and achieved stature, horizontal shadow-flows running along the sides, mists of green dreaming scabbed with blackened precipices, as if the hills were green dogs with the mange ...

Cirque d’hiver

Douglas Oliver, 21 October 1993

... after Kenneth Koch Agence France-Presse took my girls to the winter circus – that’s Paris’s Cirque d’hiver – 1970 or 71, having already given them a clockwork train set in breakable plastic as part of the exploitation of its collaborateurs. I could mention the usual football-playing poodles nodding balloons into goals but I suppose we journalists were a bit like that: lines of typewriters rattling and jumping on the long steel desks in between the stuttering teleprinter banks ...

Two Poems

Douglas Oliver, 24 August 1995

... The lnfibulation Ceremony We have reached the limit of poetry: Western people’s ignorance of how their own cultures are viewed by integrationist Islam is too profound. The following poem could never be read in illiterate deserts. Like Alice Walker and Pratibha Parmar working in West Africa, you could make a courageous film on the subject of infibulation ...

A Salvo for Malawi

Douglas Oliver, 23 June 1994

... Chotsa chipewa! Choka!Take off your hat to me! Now scram!Say you’ve never heard of John Chilembwe,or of his mission church at MbombweHQ for his First War Risingfirst salvo for the Malawi nation.Yet as surely as my mother livedon the tracer-path planetleft behind in our world’s world lineso surely my memory discovers hernot in chemical coding but alive there stilland so surely John Chilembwe still gives offthat black light in his black preacher’s suitor is alive in all our pasts before our birthnot in the photos recovered when they shot him downbut still running from the troopstowards Moçambique unarmed, hot-fleshed,in dark blue coat, striped pyjama jacketcoloured shirt, grey flannel trousersrunning for about a mile beforeMlanje Police Private Naluso shot him;the bullet spun him around and around,Sergeant Useni hit him again,I hit him through the head,said Garnet Kaduya, Church of Scotland,in a language truly dead, but Chilembwe wasspinningas they pulled and snapped the life-threadin that present moment ...

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