When I refused to share my Latin homework,
you challenged me to a fight
outside the tuckshop, first thing after school.
With little choice, I accepted,
my strategy hopelessly unclear. You had form
and news of the mismatch sparked from class to class.
The lane was choked with the cough
of cigarette smoke and the acrid smell of BO
funnelling from the knots of baying boys
heralding my entrance. You strutted around
the makeshift ring, joking and laughing
with your cabal. I was tempted to admit defeat,
but conscious that attack is often
the best form of defence, I walked towards you,
shucking school bag and gaberdine,
baited you with words of bluff bravado,
silencing the crowd and tempting you
to hit me for the first time. I flinched
but didn’t react, tried to distract you
with the recitation of random tracts of Latin
unseen and the declension of obscure French verbs.
You continued your attack, my rubbery mouth
spitting out the syllables of broken words,
until I could take no more, legs buckling under me.
Curled on the ground, I sensed the mood
of the crowd shift to hushed concern,
and unfolding myself like a deckchair into standing,
rushed to concede. You win, I mumbled,
sweeping up my school bag and disappearing
into the maw of the crowd, tears starting to fall.
Perhaps chastened by the incipient shock
that rippled through the school, you never asked
for my homework again and, when we left school,
our paths diverged, until today – I saw you in town
stepping out of a brand-new Tesla,
pristine paintwork too tempting to ignore.
A past winner of the Trocaire/Poetry Ireland and Poems for Patience competitions, he published his debut collection, ‘Growing Up in Colour’, with Doire Press in 2018.
Curator of the Irish Centre for Poetry Studies site, his Pushcart-nominated poem, ‘The Lion Tamer Dreams of Office Work’, was the title poem of an anthology published by Hibernian Writers in 2015.