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The Essay

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Nineteen nighty five
Nominally fourteen;
I was sitting in the sports hall
pen in hand
the desks apart
a teacher I didn’t know
patrolled the aisles
The English paper said ‘write a story
include a river
and an allegory’

The clock at the front clicks
thin hands jerk and tick
I spin my pen
study the air vents above me
there’s a dusty shuttlecock
caught up in the pipework
there’s a brown deflated football
sitting on the skylight
I need to start writing…

I wasn’t a reader, then
I knew nothing much of stories
I’d watched a lot of films
I’d heard a lot of pop songs
but I wasn’t a writer

Unimpressed by the aesthetic
the muted light inside the sports hall
I pushed my mind 
out onto the playing fields
down the long road past the waterworks
to the river on the edge of town

And I could see it there
a bend in the channel where
a tree had lost its leaves
a tree was clinging 
to the dry mud of the riverbank
being undercut by the flowing water
being ever exposed by the erosion
being deposed

And I started to write
of the tree being cut and torn
being pulled and weakened
by the hunger of the river
Hanging on with every root
and the river’s endless running

The more I wrote 
the sadder I felt for the tree
the more I wrote
the more the tree’s plight mirrored something I’d seen
the more I wrote the more I saw
my mother’s best friend’s fight with cancer 
revealed before me
The more I wrote the more I saw her face
looking back at me
and the more the story moved me

And the tree succumbed
to the river’s flow
as all things will, eventually

That essay was the first time I wrote something
with any meaning
handed my paper back 
a tear-stain just above my name
That was the first time I wrote something
and I haven’t stopped since...



cancerexamsmemoriesthe first thing I wrote

◄ Bonfires

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Wed 21st Oct 2020 09:45

Wow, thanks Keith and Stephen, really appreciate you stopping by and reading. This was one of those rare poems (for me) which was written in about 10 minutes flat on a whim, but I was quite pleased with what came out.

I'd love to read about how/when others caught the writing bug... ?

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keith jeffries

Mon 19th Oct 2020 20:16


A remarkable revelatory story which displays the incipient signs of your poetic skills.

Thank you for this


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Stephen Atkinson

Mon 19th Oct 2020 16:16

Love the way this develops. Great piece Tom.

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Mon 19th Oct 2020 12:10

"And it was at that age... Poetry arrived in search of me."

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Wed 29th Apr 2020 10:04

Thank you Greg, MC, Lorraine and Don for the comments (and Mika, Leon for the likes). Much appreciated all.

That story in the sports hall always stuck in my head as important and though I never got to read it again - at least now I have this poem. So long, it's an essay in itself. ?

Ah, thanks for the comment Rachel - I've only just seen it. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I tried to write it with an element of the same nativity I had back then.

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Rachel Moore

Tue 28th Apr 2020 14:57

Wow, I love poetry that cuts right to the heart of what is truly alive in us. Glad you became a poet to share these beautiful words

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Don Matthews

Thu 16th Apr 2020 23:24

SO good Tom.........

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Lorraine Settanni

Thu 16th Apr 2020 17:02

so BRAVE of you to surrender to your gift. thank you

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M.C. Newberry

Thu 16th Apr 2020 16:15

Motivation takes many forms and the magic appears.

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Greg Freeman

Thu 16th Apr 2020 15:17

Inspirational, Tom!

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