Ashleigh Young

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From a Garden with Teachers

I had never seen Mrs. Smart’s bare arms
but there they were, chalky white/grey
like clay
yet to be made into something
til then I had managed to get around the fact that
teachers had skin
had whole bodies underneath their clothes.
Because she was a big lady
some kids called her names
she would lose her temper in class
and her face shook terribly.
In the garden, her face folding into a smile
she asked about my future.
Mrs. Wards had a laugh
that belonged in the air, in the trees.
She put her full weight behind it:
it was incredible how far she could make it go.
Then it would do an about-turn
and billow down to the garden.
I don’t remember the joke
but Mrs. Wards clutched my arm
and gave me a look
like she knew me through
and through, because I was thirteen
and a girl.
I was afraid of and in love with Mr. Frame
who was forever consumed by a fury:
he threw chairs
at the blackboard, at us; he threw himself
at the wall; his blue eyes burned.
My mother had taught him fourth-form French
he had been a beautiful boy.
He stood alone in our garden, smoking
he looked different
knocking the ash out of his cigarette
and I liked to pretend
we had never met.
Sad Mr. Muir, whose name always
made me think
of the moa,
mooching along in the fading terrain
overturning fronds and skeletons.
Mr. Muir’s first name was Ian, and that immediately
seemed to me
the sound a moa might have made, calling
for its mate, at night. Ian, Ian, Ian
Muir. There was a rumour
that his wife
had left him.
Next year I was leaving town
but the teachers would go on
every December, standing in one another’s gardens.
Mr. McVinnie would go on peering over his glasses
sweat patches would go on growing under his arms
as he went on flicking the baton to the military marches
that would march on sure as time. ‘Beggars can’t be choosers,’
he’d said when asking me to play
in the stage band
I would’ve done anything for him.
How long they could stand,
holding the same pose
and the same glass, the wine knowing
when to refill itself, their smiles
when to brighten
their voices blurring
the way the tennis nets do
in late afternoon, when the dark
is beginning to bloom around them
and their colours are beginning to run
outside their lines
like paint
with too much water.

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