Sunday, 29 September 2019
ON LEAVING A SELF-HELP BOOK IN THE SCHOOL STAFF ROOM
I left a book in the staff room.
Not just any book either; it was
a self-help guide for anxiety. It was
something to fill in the cracks
of the day, a flicker of a bulb
to help guide the way, but I worried
that this part of me that I’d left behind
didn’t display my most admirable side.
Would the teachers who found it
know that it was mine? And did this mean
that they would think twice
before inviting me back next time?
Would they peak through it
and see the bits I’d underlined,
highlighting the areas where
my problems reside?
I felt like what I’d left was something akin
to a naked picture, my bits
dangling for all to see --
a stark image
of a distorted me.
Of course I could have denied
that it was my book. Or I could
have hoped that no one would notice
or look. I could have not gone back
to claim it, leaving everyone wondering
which member of staff it was with issues,
who wasn’t quite right in the head,
who was fit for the funny farm.
I wondered if it might cause alarm
that I was seriously ill, and that
even though we’re generally better
than we were at mental health,
I was still not to be trusted with kids.
So I hunched into myself outside the door
as creatures debated inside my head,
weighing up whether to go back in,
my mind a see-saw, when suddenly
that bulb again: I saw
that if I can’t be myself
then who can I be?
If I can’t be myself then what’s the point
of all the poetry?
What’s the point in helping others
find their voice when my own cowers
in the shadows? Why blunt the teeth
of my tiger while the other ones roar?
What is it all for?
And before anything else,
behind the labels ‘poet’, ‘entertainer’,
‘workshop leader’, there is a more
fundamental reality: I am a human,
with all that that entails.
Sometimes strong and sometimes frail.
I needed to break out
of this jail and not run away
from who I really am.
As a bush is to thorns,
as a rainbow is to rain,
as a sprawling metropolis is
to its grimy backstreets
so are we to our weaknesses.
As a ladder is to the gaps
between its slats,
so are we to our flaws.
I did go in to get the book,
shoulders held back,
spine as straight as I could make it,
and if there’s one thing to take from it
I would say this:
Whatever you’ve left behind,
unloved and untamed,
go and claim it.
Let others read the book
of who you truly are,
see the scribbles in the margins
and the places where the pages
have been folded down.
Let your bits hang down for all to see.
Let your world be scribbled on
by the poetry of reality.
Let others think and say
whatever they want
as you leave your books
in staff rooms, classrooms,
meeting halls, offices,
bars, pubs and streets.
Your word is your world.
Let them read.