Chalk by Dannie Abse

Chalk, calcium carbonate, should mean school –
a small, neutral stick neither cool nor hot,
its smell should evoke wooden desks slamming
when, squeaking over blackboards, it could not
decently teach us more than one plus one.

Now, no less pedagogic in ruder districts,
on iron railway bridges, were urchins fight,
an urgent scrawl names our failure – BAN THE BOMB,
or more peculiarly, KEEP BRITAIN WHITE.
Chalk, it seems, has some bleeding purpose.

In the night, secretly, they must have come,
strict, clenched men in the street, anonymous,
past closed shops and the sound of running feet
till upstairs, next morning, vacant in a bus,
we observe a once blank wall assaulted.

There’s not enough chalk in the wronged world
to spell out one plus one, the perfect lies.
HANDS OFF GUATEMALA – though slogans change,
never the chalk scraping on the pitched noise
of a nerve in violence or in longing.

by Dannie Abse
from Poems, Golders Green (1962)

Additional information: Dannie Abse CBE FRSL (22 September 1923 – 28 September 2014) was a Welsh poet and physician. His poetry won him many awards. As a medic, he worked in a chest clinic for over 30 years. He was born in Cardiff, Wales, to a Jewish family. He was the younger brother of politician and reformer Leo Abse and the eminent psychoanalyst, Wilfred Abse. Unusually for a middle-class Jewish boy, Dannie Abse attended St Illtyd’s College, a working-class Catholic school in Splott.

Editor’s note: Posted on a week when teachers went on strike in Britain.

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Never Tell by Anonymous

The saplings of the green-tipped birch
Draw my foot from bondage:
Let no boy know your secret!

Oak saplings in the grove
Draw my foot from its chain:
Tell no secret to a maid!

The leafy saplings in the oak
Draw my foot from prison:
Tell no babbler a secret!

Briar shoots with berries on –
Neither a blackbird on her nest,
Nor a liar, are ever still.

by Anonymous
12th century

A Day in the Life by Ceri Stafford

Sitting alone in the throes of the winter,
Whispering words that died with the sun,
Staring with eyes that are stinging and bitter,
Crying inside, for the music has gone.

Walking alone in the curve of the coastline,
Cursing the demon that murdered the fire,
Cold as the heart that is dying inside him,
Mad as the heart that gave birth to the liar.

Standing alone in the kingdom of tears,
Watching for life through the knives of the rain,
Dying in memory, silently waiting,
Hate for himself growing strong with the pain.

Leaving along, left alone in the storm
By a dove disillusioned by silence and stone.
Racing through crashing night, chased by a man
who will always be spurned, who will never be home.

by Ceri Stafford

Match My Moments by R. S. Thomas

That time
the soldier broke in
to my room and I,
the sword at my throat,
looked up from my sums
and theorems and smiling
said: Spare my designs.

That time
in the rusting bracken
the road ran with sheep,
a woollen river but vocal,
saying in its raw baritone
to the man on its banks:
We give our life for the shepherd.

That time
the queue winding towards
the gas chambers, and the nun,
who had already died
to this world, to the girl
in tears: Don’t cry. Look,
I will take your place.

That time
after the night’s frost the tree
weeping, the miser in me
complaining: Why all this washing
the earth’s feet in gold? And I,
my finger at my lips: Because
it is what we are made of.

by R. S. Thomas
from Mass for Hard Times (1992)