Tagged: Poetry

Back to school

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Every September is the same. I pack a bag for work, set off into the still warm sunshine, and wonder if this will be the year when I will finally feel that I have arrived, and whether men in suits (not just white ones, though they could be) are not about to swarm through my building holding up a search warrant asking me to come with them, please, if I know what is best for me. I pass the shops that I have passed a thousand times, noting which ones have changed over the summer (Dan the Veg is now indoors; yet another coffee shop/’artisan’ bakery has opened up), and pause, as I always do, before crossing at the lights. I’m doing well. I pass Tone’s old house and wonder who lives there now. Up the road, past Colin and Lucy’s, hoping they have been productive over the summer. All the way up to the gates, not much to look at really, black, iron, hidden until you come upon them, nothing more than a gap in a wall with a secret garden behind it. And that is where it happens, as I cross the threshold between what Les Murray calls the daylight and dreaming world and my other life as a professional, with all the myriad identities that compete for attention inside it: teacher, writer, academic, administrator, colleague, friend, thinker. I have worked here longer than I have worked anywhere. Long enough to be thought of as a fixture, certainly as long as the great and good colleagues I looked up to when I first arrived (and who have now retired or died). Am I one of them now? How could I ever be? I feel as though I have just started, not least merely begun to understand what it is I am doing, as opposed to what I am supposed to be doing. A wave bobbles in the bottom of my stomach. Unmistakeable. Going in to bat, plugging in a PowerPoint, opening a book at a poetry reading: will I remember what to do? What if the words have erased themselves overnight, or, worse, disappear while I am speaking. It’s my basic recurring dream. No one showing up is the least of it. Outwardly the campus has barely changed. Plum-splatter on the paths; same ancient seagulls stamping the sodden grass in the hope of charming some worms towards the surface. The rooms I teach in have been emptied, gutted and redecorated. Minus their furniture they have a weird, grey echo about them. The place needs people, I think, is dead without them. I pass a colleague on the stairs, briefly stopping to say how my summer went, already feeling it recede at the speed of light. One more flight. My own office door. If the door is closed I am teaching or out, a notice on it says. If it is open, please feel free to come and say hello. It’s next to a poster of a poem I once wrote about my children, ‘I Try Not to Shout at Them’. Somewhere between my poem and the note next to it is my life. I turn the key and go in. Another year.