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Alan Humm: a poem

Teaching in Addington

The trees were my reward.

Glib, slick,

finessing the light

until it seemed to dream,

they reassured you:

told you that you were no longer

on the hill, as bare as bone.

Its skies, I swear,

were stark and intimate

as someone's mouth;

the hill was like a jaw,

the houses worn away like teeth.

But don't trust me.

I am finessing, too,

each simile

a measure of my own defeat.

If I wasn't at home

it was because I failed to be.


There was blood on the walls.

It came from two Year Seven girls.

It over-reached itself:

glowed with the bright air of carnival.

I had made barriers of my arms.

Had taken pride, it's true,

in making barriers of my arms.

But while my legs tried to take root

I heard myself,

unable to leap the gap

between the things I thought I knew

and everything the children did.

They would have told me if they could:

blood, all blood,

is currency.

Is cogency; just one more truth

I couldn't speak.


Bejay bounced against my arm.

I shouldn't have done it.

He ran and I acted like a wall.

Who did I think

I was protecting?

Me, my ego jabbering away,

although I couldn't have told you

who I was.

We drove them to the coast.

Bejay had never seen a cow.

He was delighted,

but then he glowered

at the way its haunches

took the sun,

as if by right.

He said: "When we get there

what are we supposed to do?"

I said: "Pick shells."

He asked me why.

But, at the shoreline,

he handled them as gently

as if they were all unhoused brains;

each one a genius of place

just like his mother,

her features blossoming reluctantly

when I said I had driven there

to apologise.


Did I make a difference?

No. Maybe.

Foursquare, I held a pose

that influenced

not just the way I stood

but what I made them write.

Light in the pubs

like something parodying light;

meth; scag;

bags scattered across the lawn;

graffiti drooping in defeat;

and Chelsea's dad,

killed just outside her house.

A drug deal, she wrote.

I had to force myself to point out

her apostrophes.


The whole school was rubbed raw.

Not a window or door

that didn't lack love.

Once, I spoke to a man

who drew himself backwards

when I described my day.

It was as if I'd plunged my hand

into a sewer, or electricity.

I wanted to teach him

that his urbane expression,

this air he had of being a needle


over life's little ironies,

was just another form of self-disgust.

He should have asked me

which of us,

me or the kids,

was teaching who.

Which is another way of saying:

don't think that I didn't love them,

because I did.

This poem was originally published in the Culture Matters' anthology The Cry of the Poor. Alan Humm is the editor of One Hand Clapping and is currently looking for a home for his collection, A Brief and Biased History of Love.

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