Composed of chalk dust,

Pencil shavings and

The sharp odour

Of stale urine;

It meets me now and then

Creeping down a creosoted corridor

Or waiting to be banged

With the dust from piles of books

On top of a cupboard.

The double desks heeled with iron

Having long been replaced;

The steel-nibbed pens and

Ink watered to pale grey

Gone too: the cane’s bamboo bite

Has nothing left to bite on

And David’s psalms

Must learn each other.

But it’s there

Ready to spring out

Like a coiled snake skin still envenomed

After years by a suburban hearth.

It was fifteen years ago

But I still remember Smigger,

Our greying old headmaster

In his spats and striped trousers,

The last in our town to wear them,

And his northern accent,

Heavy as Sunday.

“Now then you lads,

I’m not having this

Or I’ll tan you all,”

He’d bawl at a mill-hand’s boy

For drawing cunts on the lavatory wall.

Old Holmes, too, his yellow teeth

And hair all over the place,

One hand trembling with shell shock.

The other with rage, one foot lame

And brain half daft,

Ready to belt you

For moving an eye.

The boys were always

Belching and farting

And tormenting me for my

Long words and soft voice

And they do still

When I sense that stink

In my nostrils.

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