Schoolchildren


The Schoolchildren

Like leaves startled by a gust of wind
they peel away from the tight-knit group,
one child, two, another, more,
taking flight, ruffling up the street,
blown into it, propelled into merging,
unravelling the throng,
then seeking it again, and falling into place.
Magnetism drives them apart, then pulls them together,
spilling them into the street,
then dragging them back again. Strange
how they take shape, becoming themselves.
As though consciousness demands pursuit.
They are sought out, touched, gathered in.
Nothing happens, till they face
an obstacle, one by one.
Two or three have made it,
two or three more begin to pull away,
until energy becomes infectious
and their ‘crocodile’ dissolves,
reassembles,
and they cross the road in line. A wisp
is left behind, an enveloping tenderness,
summoning the stragglers, making them realise
the others have gone, the group
is over there now. All
as easy as a breeze,
softly, like a pattern
they come together once again
and are still.

Pedro Serrano, from Peatlands, translated by Anna Crowe (Arc Publications, 2014)

It’s funny what you miss. Normally we would be into the summer term now, of endless playtimes stretching out in shadeless white heat and throngs of wordless singing. Now there is just quiet. I am amazed at how quiet it is. Very rarely the odd car, but mostly birdsong. Mostly just spring being spring getting lighter and warmer each day till at some point you are going to bed in the day because it is still so light and when you wake up it is still light, all over again, a miracle. No cars to speak of, the occasional siren. Mostly birds. And no children. I think of that Thom Gunn line ‘distant babble of children’,  the adolescent poet sitting alone on Parliament Hill above it all (in all senses) studying for exams, knowing that time will not come again. It’s just one of those sounds, isn’t it, it’s just there, you take it for granted. And then it’s not. Just the cheep cheep of sparrows. (My grandfather’s joke from childhood: You always have enough money to buy a sparrow, because they’re always going cheap!) But no schoolchildren, not in the streets in a straggly line going to do a survey on the high street or to the swimming pool, not in hi-vis tabards for safety, because nothing is safe now, not outdoors, where they should be in the endless hard sunshine (those other lessons, the ones that never leave you), and nothing will be the same after this, whenever that is, and what lessons will we have learned, can we ever come together once again as easy as a breeze and be still?

With thanks to Pedro Serrano

6 Comments

    1. Thank you so much for saying so Josephine. I really appreciate you taking the time to say this. I’ve been wanting to blog about this poem for 6 years now and never got round to it but this weekend just felt like the right time, finally. I am glad you are well and writing. (I am secretly writing prose as well but don’t tell anyone.) As ever, Anthony x

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  1. Our house backs up to a school playground, and recess is always a feast of sound and frenetic movement (and one or two children dutifully digging away at the hole in the blacktop that’s right at the edge). The play equipment is roped with caution tape, now, but sometimes I hear the thump-thump of a ball and look out to see a mother and her son shooting baskets in the middle of a weekday.

    Liked by 1 person

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