for Sharanjeet Shan
“By the third year of school
all their inborn and creative joy
is knocked out of our children.”
Blake’s schoolboy’s a bird in a cage,
I reflect, and Serote’s black boy
becomes a docile cigarette, burning;
Mtshali’s lad swings in his problems;
Duiker’s Azure learns his things
on Cape streets, and in the beds of men.
We still get it wrong, on such scale.
“Their work is derivative, driven
by artless ideas of accuracy.
And it’s too easy to slap down
tedious administrative yokes. Our kids
grow confused, and are uncreated.”
“Yet learning,” bluntly, she enlarges,
“is their right. Each single person
who denies education to children
‒ specifically a teacher ‒
commits a crime,
and should face the law’s charges.”
Today I think of her:
at ten thirty the children are already dismissed,
milling around, learning nothing
for themselves, for their teachers,
for each other, for the grounds, the environment,
the timetable, their learning:
the poor young groundsman takes us on a tour
of his ineptitude, pointing out elements
of shame: and the great pile of broken desks
left to weather in the sun, and the rain . . . .
One child greets me, “Hoe’sit, oubaas?”
and seems to say everything.
There’s energy in the school air
that’s not focussed, or creative:
I can’t catch it when I’m there
treading the morning grounds
‒ some hopeful Friar Lawrence, ill-fated,
longing to untangle things, easy and slow,
and, oh, to mentor somehow
the wild misdirected, loveable, loyal,
the tragic and ardent Mercutio.