News, events and discoveries of the Walkley Ways, Walkley Wars history project.
He’s sitting on a pile of cardboard boxes,
flat cartons stacked in towers of different height,
in this old chapel warehouse. He declaims,
“I’ve never read a book in all me life!”
I’ve come to buy the boxes he’s recycling,
to pack some books I think I need to save.
But here’s the gravedigger from Hamlet, dangling
his legs. He speaks as if from out the grave,
“I tell a lie! One. Once. Not all t’ way through, though;
I did once read a book, on holiday.
But what’s tha’ saving books for? Does tha’ know?
Tha’ waint read ‘em again! Chuck ‘em away!
Books, read and done with? Millstones round us necks!
Tha’s read ‘em, a’nt tha? Leave ‘em all behind.”
But me, I’m thinking they’re a kind of annexe;
not merely things; extensions of the mind.
I think of Walkley Library, where I learned
to read; Just William, A Hundred Things
A Boy Can Do, all borrowed, read, returned.
In our back yard I once saw Saturn’s Rings.
There’s truth, though, from within the box-man’s skull.
We read, but our lives blazed in bright landscapes.
Fields, hills, and woods, beyond gravity’s pull;
books were the rocket fuel for boys’ escapes.
We lived-out stories, wrote them on the wind,
lost in the woods until the trees turned pink.
True stories of the body, heart and mind,
boys’ souls written in blood and blue-black ink.
Beyond the library, landcape falls away,
skies open; rain and sun, and blowing air
were ours in full, each weather-laden day.
Only we knew what we did, or where.
With my friend Robert, I climbed up the hill
from my near-death (a tree-rope swing that broke)
and met three bullies; boys out for the kill.
It didn’t worry them I’d just near-choked.
Next day we climbed the bottle-sharded wall
to steal some curdled hen’s eggs from the convent,
for the nature table in the parqued hall.
Miss made us put them back, so back we went.
Theft, double trespass, sin compounded sin.
She made us go there twice; a second thrill.
The souls of boys, the curdled state they’re in,
unbroke, those curdled nun’s eggs lie there still.
We shuffled home with dog-shit on our shoes;
with bruises, cuts and muddy, matted hair.
As sky, and souls of boys turned ink black-blue,
my library books wait on the big blue chair.
The cardboard box man knows the hoarder’s strife,
he sells me boxes, but his counsel’s free.
“Tha’art boxed in wi’ thi’ books! Just live thi’ life!
‘Ere’s thi’ boxes. Nah then, wheer’s me tea?”