From ‘Death in the Classroom’ and other poems

I

Death in the Classroom

First, children, let us sing the Names of Death.
Sacred Death, and Holy Death,
Most Holy Death, Most Saintly Death,
Skinny Lady, Bony Lady, Black Lady, White Lady,
White Sister, Pretty Girl,
Powerful Lady, Lady of the Shadows,
Holy Girl, Girl Skeleton, Saint Skeleton
And Godmother.
And Lord of Death,
And Lord of the Good Death, Lord of the Bad Death,
Easeful Death, and Mighty Death.
King of the Graveyard, Lord of the Boneyard,
The Emissary, The Angel and The Reaper.
The Hunter, The Finder, The Keeper.

For homework, choose a Name and write a story,
Bright with joy, dark with sorrow.
Write it with your fountain pens.
Please make sure it’s finished by tomorrow.
Revision now, on what we’ve done today.
Then, and only then, Jemima,
Can you go out to play.

Where, children, does Death live? Above.
Where, children, does Death live? Below.
Children, will Death come? He will.
When, children, will Death come? We do not know.
How, children, will Death dance? Like this.
Children, are you scared of Death? Yes, Miss!
Children! Are you scared of Death? No, Miss!


II

Secondary School

So, sinful earth and rebel powers,
And slaves to fate and chance,
(And you too, Teddy, when you’re ready, please),
Spread the good news.
There’s happy tidings in The Times today.
A cheerful letter from the Minister – he’s
Glad to say Heironymo’s got better.
(Roger, was it lower-back pain?
No sir, he was “mad againe”.)

He also says that Death,
That feeds on desperate men,
Won’t eat us up again.
So, no more dying then!
Yes, no more dying then!

Yet, shall we still say, Sunil,
“Death, be not proud!”
Or shall we say, Anita,
Take me now,
Put me to sleep,
With poppies or charms,
Poppies or charms,
For I’ve opened my arms.

Now to “real life”, Jamar.
Consider this – a man sits in a bar,
Waiting for his friend.
He thinks, for unlike you, he’s far from clever,
“I will live forever.”
Well, he died next week,
And ten years hence,
Flesh and sense
Were bones and dust,
The bones themselves no longer bones.
Some looked like sticks,
Pocked with woodworm holes.
And others, Lucy, shells of fledgling souls.

Dry dust!
Blood in thy face!
Full of grace!
Make our pillows down, or dust.
Go, my brave young things,
Fill jampotfuls of frogspawn,
Watch it hatch, then write a piece
On Mr Heaney.

Or Mr Bleaney.

Easeful death, Bill,
Easeful death.
Here there is no light,
And seems it rich to die,
For, as you know, Miss Jones and I,
We nearly kissed.
Fled is that music. Class dismissed.



III

Varsity Tutorial, D. Litt.

Doctors of Letters
Must know their letters.
So D is for Derrida, and Death.
Be sure to look them up.
B is for Bier, and Beer,
And Walter Benjamin,
Or the inevitable dying Breath
Of Bearwood, that intolerable Boffin.
C is for Coffee, Coughing,
Carry-him-off, and Coffin.
Note all this.

C also serves for College Cloisters,
The honey-stoned arcades,
Their bounded but strangely boundless lawn,
Where dusk turns down the volume
Of its strident, guarded green,
To a quietly beckoning emerald
As the summer clock strikes seven;
An Elysium where one day all must pass,
For now, forbidden.
Keep Off The Grass,
Pelouse interdite:
A novel yet to be written, Mr. Fleet.



IV

Art School

John Charles Loth, A native of Bavaria,
The Apelles of his time,
Who, on account of the skill of his pencil,
Was, by the emperor Leopold,
Honoured with a patent of nobility,
Began to paint the shades of Death
On the sixth day of October, 1698,
In the fifty-sixth year of his age.

‘Painting the Shades’ begins in week 9,
Taught by artist-in-residence, Marjorie Klein,

Ms Klein writes, “Please come prepared,
With sufficient Flake White
To show the sun in flight,
And the dying of the light,
For this will prepare your souls for flight,
Your hearts for Death’s cold hand!”

This course will stand all students in good stead
Before and after they are dead.


V

Bullet Points


Might you be shot, Gunner Short?
Yessir.
And exactly how might you be shot, Gunner Short?

● Shot in the neck,
● Shot in the head,
● Shot in the a***hole,
● Shot in bed,
● Shot in a desert,
● Shot in the knee,
● Shot before my breakfast,
● Shot before my tea.
● Shot of tequila
● Shot of rum
● Shot near a palace
● Shot near a slum
● Shot as I dream of Jill, the kids and me,
● Shot as I dream of our day by a sea
● Shot with breakers that danced on the sand,
● Shot as I think of Jill holding my hand.

Dear Mrs. Short, it is
With deep regret and sympathy
That I must now disclose
The death in action of your husband, who
According to the Adjutant’s report, was

● Shot in the head,
● Shot in the knee,
● Shot near a palace,
● Shot after his tea.
● Shot as he dreamed of your day with the kids, by a sea
● Shot with breakers that danced on the sand,
● Shot as he thought of you holding his hand.


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