• Vol. 06
  • Chapter 05
Image by

The Teacher

A head cold is a kind of helmet. I am floating on the throb
of sinuses, the new whiteboard glowing a bit blue.

I am sitting with my elbows tucked in as if riding a horse,
as if holding on to something that isn’t myself but feels

necessary. My handwriting hates its words’ hypocrisy:
Love the language you are using – Make every word count

(no space for bland clichés). They breathed relief
when I said this would be the last poetry task.

One of them thanked God. What have I done wrong?
I float around the classroom reading over shoulders

about heaven and earth, darkness and loneliness.
Most of their poems should go the guidance counsellor.

Driving to school I listen to an interview with the man
who wrote The Uninhabitable Earth: A Story of the Future

which a Guardian review said possessed “a rind
of unnecessary exaggeration”. Avoid abstract

nouns (like fear) unless they are tethered to specific
images, say, a person strapped in at an angle

vyet lone as a fetus outside of the womb, with a view
of its mother’s stretched stomach.

Constraints can be freeing (I write lazily). Take it at a slant.
Be open but not too open. If you don’t surprise yourself


The Teacher

The poem isn’t working. You are a mechanic.
You are a student. You are a scientist.

You are a child. You are an astronaut.
You are a thinking thing. You are nothing

more than a mote metres above Earth’s
blue aura. You are an Earthling.

A duckling is a baby duck, I tell my two-year-old.
You are a baby Earth. You are orbiting.

You are spinning. You are heating up.
You are drying out. You are full of voices.

You are caught in a net. You are not a creel of eels
Or a pickled sprat but a single white bait – too

little for a fritter, with one black shining eye.
You are beginning to see.

You are (as my two-year-old says in the bath)
a fish looking at me. You are ready

to be eaten by the wide black mouth of what isn’t
yourself, every picture book has one.