Dust and Shadow

‘Tis education forms the common mind
Just as the twig is bent the tree’s inclined


Four circles cut in dust-motes by the cane.
Four times a hand exploded, forearms jarred,
fingers shrieked and died. Maps, board and globe
unfocussed for a moment “Try again
and this time get it right. Sit down”. Four rows
of heads with who’ll-be-next expressions. Then,
palms in armpits, back to fractions. Waiting there
until reluctant blood beat back again
until the throbbing stopped and smarting started.
Listening to a whispering — four words — a phrase
that fired the cauldron bubbling in my brain
four words distilled in vitriol — one day,
one day you bastard.

Canes whip again — a life away from when
Old Vulgar thrashed through fractions. Fifteen years
of training shaped these vines. Each June I plan
and prune for patterns, cut back runners, bend
the canes to shelter western windows and
each spring I find the shade has shifted, shadows fall
just where they’re needed least and patterns lie
in tatters on the terrace. Every year
I seem to prune for patches. Summer brings
its heat to windows still and will again.
You’d think I’d have it right by now but then
in fifteen years slow learners find that canes
and fractions have a lot in common — strange,
unmanagable things.

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