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Monday, 7 October 2013

How Do I Be A Success Like You?


Outside the classroom, the other day,
a little boy came up to me, and tugging
at the hem of my garment, asked
How do I be a success like you?

And I didn’t know what to say.
You see, I’ve never thought of myself that way.
Because after private school and two degrees
society does not tend to see reading poetry
to kids as a natural progression.
And sometimes it feels like I’m not listening in the lesson;
like this isn’t ‘real work’ or the kind of thing
a man should do.
My parents tell me that I’m better than that,
that this isn’t a real job,
that of course giving kids the joy of words
is no bad thing, but to leave it to someone else
and to go out there and be someone.
Wear a suit, son.
Commute, son.
Be what we expect of you, son.
And of course we read poems and books to you, son,
but this wasn’t an end in itself.
At no point did we dream that one day
you’d be doing such a thing for anyone
other than your own kids.
What are you, a glorified bloody babysitter?

And so the bitter taste at the back of my throat
when the boy asked
How do I be a success like you?
arose from not believing it to be true.
It arose from skulking in the shadows
of people my age already on 50k a year,
of people my age with their own flats and cars,
and even of the bloke at the bar who,
upon being told that I work with children,
drunkenly snorts paedophile, as though that
could be the only explanation for a man
wanting to do such a thing.

It arose from having memorised
the lines of a play
in which I play no part.
But no: through that boy’s eyes
I saw myself anew.
So to the boy who asked me
How do I be a success like you?
I say this:
Believe that what you’re doing is worthwhile.
Believe that anyone who doubts you is mistaken.
Tell yourself every day that you can be what you want to be.
Tell yourself that success is not just reading
from someone else’s script,
but believing what you say,
or, even better, writing the words yourself.
And know that what counts is not whether
you’ve spelt them correctly, or whether
they’re in the right order,
but that they. Are. Yours.

Success does not come in manuals.
Success is not flat-pack furniture,
and – you know what?
Success certainly doesn’t come from listening to poems
about what success is.
So, son, do it your way.
Don’t listen to what I say.  

1 comment:

  1. What a heartfelt poem so beautifully composed and a lesson perhaps that all parents should take notice of.
    Congratulations on understanding yourself and your strengths

    ReplyDelete