he came late to class
five minutes sometimes ten
and his breath always smelled

we didn’t mind we thought it cool
manly and lay

the only lay teacher we had
the rest men in black with missions
and self-appointed halos
playing parts

and English every day was after Latin
Ovid and Virgil drummed in by The Exorcist
that’s what we called Father Mike
because he scared demons
and the shite out of everyone

the first day we had Billy
our breath of Paddy and fresh air
he picked me and said ‘read to me lad’
‘read what sir?’
he looked at me as if i’d two heads
‘choose you fool and speak clear’

i chose and he exclaimed
‘the brilliant little Jesuit!
now hit the words thump the lines
make them spring from the paper’

Degged with dew, dappled with dew
Are the groins of the brae that the brook treads through

‘listen to it
listen lads and learn’

i must’ve done well for he chose me often
and whether rain outside or frost on the glass
i entertained the attentive room

with Marvell’s Coy Mistress
Tennyson’s The Splendor Falls
Dickinson’s I felt a Funeral…

and odes on urns and nightingales
fleas and little mice
and A Hymn to God the Father

they took him away sudden
and we never saw Billy again
‘early retirement’ the official blurb
hardly in February

rumours fuelled the mystery of departure
tardiness high stool
bad influence on young boys

to this day i can recite Inversnaid by heart
and The Habit of Perfection

habits well learned
perfectly taught

4 thoughts on “Billy

  1. If we were lucky we all had a ‘Billy’ in our youth. One who reached out and touched the desire within us to enjoy and embrace learning. The teacher who introduced us to con brio in our pursuit of education. Pity far too many met with Billy’s fate. The establishment unwilling to accept their real contributions. My Billy was named Higgins. A foreign exchange art teacher from Scotland. Replete with kilts thick brogue and a proper walking stick. Another beautifully written work John. Thank you for sharing it with me.

  2. My second reading of this piece. Profound. A statement of character, fault and triumph. A statement of impact. Consequences. Good intentions and all the nuances of being human.

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