OLIVIA THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS

© J.A. Storey -Taylor 1988



You were my teachers:

Born, the breaking of the waters

The first pebble

In the still, quiet mirror surface

Of the millpond of existence.

Swathed only in innocence

And hungry to suckle of

The milk of human kindness.



You were my teachers:

A place and role of great responsibility.

You taught me much.

You could have taught me different -

You could have taught me differently.



Your lessons reached me,

Within the community, from across the world:

Beyond the present and immediate,

Out of history and into a future not yet come,

By sound, image, touch.



What did you teach me, O, Teachers of Mine?

As you showed me

Your exercises in greed and hypocrisy,

Drawn from the art of bullying

Through your insecurity, ignorance, arrogance and cruelty;

Played to my ears

The scales of your envy, bitterness, resentment.

I looked through the classroom window

On the beauty and grace

Which sustains me,

As you endeavoured to trammel my mind

Into that which only served

To confine, constrain, confuse me.



Pomposity your lecturn:

The unceasing orations of your opinions

And the grave accents of your attitudes -

Made bold and capital

By black on white.

Stiff-lipped smiles which did not warm your eyes,

The tense of your bodies of yesterdays and tomorrows -

So rarely of the true present -

And the ungrieved but not unspoken griefs.

Unfaced, unresolved conflicts

Heard high, strained, plaintive

In the winds which passed through the willows.

These the practices impressed as example.



Though mostly unwilling to publicly air

Your own dirty linens,

Was witnessed holocaust

In the rapacity to air your complaints against others.



You were my teachers:

From familiar, acquaintance and stranger

Was absorbed hopelessness, helplessness,

Anger, intransigence, hatred,

Dissonance, dissatisfaction,

Pettiness, insincerity...



You were my teachers:

And, from you, all I learned

Was to be afraid.



You were my teachers:

And you, yourselves, failed

When examined by the criteria and values

Set by yourselves -

But which you ever expected me to attain.

You failed to teach me

That life is a joy

And love the only way to live.

Your sourness and boredom -

The void of sweet dreams unadmitted

Not ambitions unrealised -

Served only acceptance.



In the stridency of the cacophony

Of your collective voice

And the malcontent in the content

Of your subjective matter,

Then, even then,

I knew you were wrong.



How did I know?

From the sting of the salt

And staccato breathing;

From the wild horses, startled in the night

And the pressing oppression on waking.

Yet, if I dared to question or challenge

You, my teachers,

Then it was I who was defiant,

Rebellious,

Wilful,

Selfish -

And needs must be punished, addressed, redressed.

By what motivation?

But the satisfaction of having the final word?

Control of the situation?

An act of the defiance, rebellion, wilfulness and selfishness

Of your own selves -

Called by other names

And right justified -

Does not change the essence.



Fear not the snake and the venom in its tongue.

Within confrontation with such an adversary,

One can die but once from its poisons:

Instead, beware the Man Unfulfilled and Discontent,

With his smattering of other men's knowledge,

Small cognizance of reason

And his own heart choked by the weeds of experience.

Carry rosemary, then, for remembrance

That each Dark One on the Threshold

Is but the inwardly tiny, insignificant and damaged standard

Of the dark, rapacious space

Within the standard-bearer.

No man has the power

Beyond the power made gift to him by others:

But, first, shall he be Hero,

Then Scapegoat,

For the masses.



Hold sage for the knowing -

Take thyme that it may be so -

Of the minds conjoined

In united illusion

Of Hope and Glory:

And do not forget the rue -

For it is, was and always shall be

You,

O, Teachers of Mine,

Are of the numbers

Who opened the door...



Yes, yes...

Beware the Common Man

With his common mind,

Who mates his common angers -

Seeded from the shallow and unsecured, unexplored foundation

Of his common sense -

Incestuously with his like kind

And making bastard of integrity,

Instead of marrying his own deepest love

With his own highest intelligence.



There is no strength in he

Who cannot stand alone

But needs must meld with others

To manufacture courage -

Easy to be brave in the company of cowards

Than stand in isolation -

When it is not the reflection of his faith he finds:

Simply a validation to

Self-righteousness and self-importance.

While fearfulness and cowardice

Be rock to flowed expression

Against the one voice

Who dares to disagree.

Your power diluted,

Thence diluted yet again:

Not, not, not, as you desire and deceive yourselves

Power distilled to essence.



You were my teachers:

And there could be no disappointment or disillusionment,

If, first,

You had not taught me these.



You showed me artifice and artifact,

Demonstrated time and time, and time again,

Such small regard, esteem and welcome

To life and love and man and world.

Your hands cannot reach to heal

Or you arms open to embrace:

For they are clutched around the possessions

Which possess you;

Cling grimly to the next rung on the ladder

To superficial success and hollow victory;

Or point everywhere, to everyone,

Even to fate,

Rather than point it at yourselves.



You were my teachers:

And my shoulders took your burdens and your blames.

My heart became leaden,

My mind brittle and tense,

Under your guidance and tuition.



You were my teachers:

And, in what you would teach,

I would break before I would bow



To a wisdom, harmony, balance,

You cared little for,

Knew too little of,

Did not wish, so would not find time

To learn more of,

To show me.



You were my teachers:

But I no longer heed you:

For break I did

Before I broke away.



And, waiting for me,

Were finer teachers,

In the land, the wind, the waters.

They have been kinder teachers, too -

Gently unravelling the fetters of afraid

And whispering only love,

E'en when ferocious.



Where the dock leaf thrives by the nettle

Have I wandered,

And been touched with an understanding of you,

Who gave no such balm to your sting;

By the spring of clean waters

Have I rested,

And bathed with a compassion for you,

A charity of perspective rarely shown by you to others.



Now, only now,

By the sight of the smile

Of Olivia through the looking-glass,

Can I turn

With warmth and pleasure,

With trust and faith,

To myself,

And welcome, once more, my human teachers.



You?

No. Not you.

The Children.

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