The village school is cold and still.
Its entrance gate is rusted shut,
the playground overwhelmed by sounds
of loaded lorries, hissing past,
no noise but theirs to fill a school
where only shadows come to play.

A figure joins the shadow play.
It was a life ago, but still
she sees a teacher by the school,
for though the doors are bolted shut,
no bolt defends against the past.
She watches, waits;  a class bell sounds.

How loss can pierce with splintered sounds,
and then what stealthy tricks will play,
to tangle yearning for the past
with images we strive to still;
’til longing opens sorrows shut
away – a touch, a smile, a school.

Who of us fully learns to school
our thoughts,  to sieve the pain from sounds
that seep through seals we thought were shut?
He mouths the lines from some old play,
she hears a boy who calls her still –
though thirty silent years have passed.

In grief, the classroom numbed the past;
she found a meaning here at school,
but all her teaching failed to still
the scenes, their dreams – enduring sounds
of one dear grubby child at play,
whose loss left wounds which never shut.

She longs to let the album shut,
lock sorrow in a drawer marked “Past”,
but shadows taunt and interplay
like pupils skipping home from school.
And though she strains to hold their sounds,
the last has left, the yard is still.

She turns, but still her heart won’t shut,
won’t mute the sounds of sorrows past
which haunt this school where shadows play.


This poem is among the entries for the Society of Classical Poets’ 2012 Poetry Competition.

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4 Responses

  1. Sally

    Thank you so much John. I am new here and still trying to find my way round! Glad you enjoyed this. I hope to post another sestina soon.

  2. anon

    This is such a Delicate, gentle insightful text – truly gossamer, and yet tenuous in its depths, this poet has amazing grace, I am so glad this was posted – it is unusual to read such gentility of thought,


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