Michael Henry

A Licence for Time

It was an old Jewish market
with veils and kosher things
and the yellow glory of gold

and an old rabbi
with a pepper and salt beard
who looked knackered.

He helped me with metaphysics.
I could have sharpened my pencil
on the crease of his cream trousers.

He waved to the sibyl of the shtetl
and we studied cabbala and old parchments
whose slalom handwriting traced

the boustrophedon lope
of lumbering oxen,
furrow by furrow, line by line.

He offered the chance of a licence for time
that could turn back a line of my life,
the most precious line of my life:

a widower stepping out with his wife again
down an avenue of silver birch,
choir-trees in white surplices.

Born in Liverpool in 1942, Michael Henry read Modern Languages at Oxford. Soon after graduating he emigrated to Canada, where he worked as a teacher for thirteen years. He had his first poems published in Canadian magazines and also broadcast by the Canadian Broadcasting Company. Since his return to England he has lived in his home-town, Cheltenham.