Some poems seem to strike an immediate chord and it’s love at first read. Others are a slow burn: they seem a little distant at first but it takes another read (or two) to gain a fuller appreciation of what the poem achieves. Gregory Leadbetter’s “The Fetch” falls into the latter category. Their quiet intent draws a reader in but it takes another read before really warming to them. The title refers to the second meaning of fetch as an apparition, double, wraith of a living person. During a dream in the title poem,
“I listened, and began to speak
as I am speaking now. My breath
condensed. I saw it slowly take
the outline of a child, afraid
of the dark from which it was made.”
Throughout the collection, there’s a sense of haunting. Sometimes this sense comes from external apparitions, but mostly it comes from a sense of legacy and responsibility to those both leaving us and to those left after us. The narrator’s parental instinct doesn’t stop at noticing “the outline of a child” but picks up that it’s fearful. That emotion could be an observation or a projection although the ambiguity isn’t relevant.
During his final illness Gregory Leadbetter’s father began building a model of the solar system, referred to in “My Father’s Orrey”
“A look of recognition crossed his eyes –
yes that’s them – but out of orbit,
no force to order and bind them
to the weave of their ellipses,
and turn the eye of space between
and spring them in the cradle of their star,
without which they rattle and fall.
With the planets in his hands, he felt
the weight of his loss, knew he had forgotten
how to put the universe together.”
Later, in the sequence “Dendrites and Axons”, part II, the poet’s father’s decline is further explored,
“At the hospital, you had to draw a pentagon.
Geometry itself broke open: where
there should have been one, you drew
three, which overlapped like a Venn diagram.
An epicentre in the white space: chaos
in its blossoming fractal.”
It’s a sensitive exploration, handled deftly so, despite his decline, the father never loses his dignity. The sequence is a poignant layering of images that guide the reader to see the strength in the father/son relationship and enduring respect.
The poems are not all focused on the central relationship and are not all lingering in an absence of things not said. “Feather” is a villanelle that ends
“My father is not so old as I am now.
This feather’s perfection cannot replace
the wing it lifted from the ground.
But there’s enough of its vane of barbs to astound
his absence, just enough fragmented grace
to find in the feather that knocked me down
the wing that lifts me from the ground.”
What burns through is the desire to communicate the senses of duty and communication, the drive to continue and renew legacies, even if adapted and revived to suit contemporary times. Plus a recurring theme of humanity and compassion. Gregory Leadbetter doesn’t shy away from his ghosts or the things that haunt him, but shines a light on them to work towards a better understanding of the human condition.