‘Uziel means God is my power and my strength.’
When at assembly the head master announces I’ve won the school poetry prize my blood runs cold.
How did that happen?
I feel confused. Is it the poem Mrs Stevenson asked me to write out neatly on some card she gave me? She put it up with our Autumn Project display outside our class room. I didn’t write my name on it. Being singled out can get you a lot of kicks under the lunch table and trip ups in corridors.
Now I’ll have to read it out on Parents Assembly and Father O’Mally will be there watching me.
I feel like my secret vestry shame will somehow become visible.
Bertram Boyd calls me a ‘cissy poet’ in the playground at break time. He trips me up as we go back inside.
I come home with scraped knees. Mother makes a fuss. I don’t tell her what happened. I don’t tell her about the poem. I don’t want her there in the school hall watching me read my poem standing close to O’Mally on stage. My ears burn scalding hot when I think of it.
I hide the parents assembly invite letter but she hears about it anyway.
‘Did you loose that letter from the school or is it still in your satchel’ she asks. She still doesn’t know about the poem.
I’m standing in front of the whole class. Parents day is tomorrow. Mrs Stevenson is coaching me on how to say it. I have to stand in front of my whole class
‘Take a deep breath and read it slowly’ she says.
I go beetroot and Bertram Boyd sticks his tongue out at me.
I try to look at the page with my poem on it. I can’t see the words for toffee.
‘You can do it’ says Mrs Stevenson
‘I can’t’ I think to myself. I feel my knees beginning to shake.
‘What’s the matter?’ she asks ’Hold the paper up with both hands. Stand straight. Head up.’
Someone is giggling. Janet Crouch. The girl in my class that I’m secretly in love with. My face feels hot and my mouth goes dry.
I feel so exposed, ‘tainted’. Mother used that word about the girl next door who did something with a man that wasn’t proper but I don’t know what exactly.
O’Mally has twisted himself inside me. I can’t believe that no-one seems to see.
I take a deep breath and start to read the poem I wish I had never written.
Crab apple-’n-quince……’ I mumble trying to get it over with.
Slow down’ says Mrs Stevenson. ’Start again slowly so we can hear every word. Say the title first.
‘Quiet class this is the poem that our head master has chosen. We are proud that it was chosen from someone in our class out of the whole school, aren’t we Class?’
‘Yes Mrs Stevenson’ the class repeats as if they are not proud at all. Mrs Stevenson sighs.
‘Now please. Begin’
Crabapple and quince
Mum heats it and stirs
Into jewel coloured jam
our black cat purrs
Sweet toffee apple
To eat on a stick
And jam spread thick
new brown shoes
splash through the rain
the bright autumn leaves
are falling again
caked in ploughed mud
Under the chestnut tree
Green conkers thud
Running through puddles
In darkening light
Wind waving trees
Outside in the night
Making a bonfire
Penny for the guy
Seeing loud fireworks
Explode in the sky
All going off
To the autumn fair
The haunted house
may give mum a scare
At this Autumn
time of year
Some people say
Real ghosts appear
I remember hoping Father O’Mally would die when I wrote that bit about ghosts. I had a list of ways people kill people in a secret red note book.
Mrs Stevenson says ‘Well done. You’ll be fine’ I wish the floor would open and swallow me up. I can hardly walk to my desk I am so embarrassed. At break Bertram Boyd calls me ‘ghost boy’ and whoops loudly in my ear to make me jump. I felt stressed out when I wrote the poem and the resulting sudden spiky green conkers that are thrown at me on the way home makes me feel worse.
I even ask mum if I can go to another school. No one seems to notice how unhappy I am except the bathroom mirror.
On the morning of Parents Assembly I wake up with a rash and a high temperature. Mother keeps me home.
‘Pity’ she says,’Mrs Stevenson told me you were going to read out a poem. Perhaps she’ll get that Bertram Boyd to read it out. He’s such a nice lad and his mum said that he is going to elocution lessons.
For the next few days I have to stay in bed. I don’t mind in-fact I am deliriously happy.