By Jenny Blackford
The flowers in the garden
of the inner-city Muslim school
are kangaroo paws just like mine at home-
hot pink, well muscled with bark.
One od the bright-eyed headscarfed girls
shows me her Dickens-Austen mix.
Dashing from room to room, from class to class,
I can’t quite concentrate, but I’m impressed.
‘Miss, are you married?’
I tell them that the hoplites in formation
were the tank of the fifth century BC;
that ancient Greeks had no tomato sauce,
chocolate or even tea; that the marble
columns everywhere – so pale, so elegant –
were painted red and green and blue
with gilded bits; that statues wore
bright-coloured robes, and even jewellery.
‘Miss, have you got kids?’
During the wars, farmers and village-folk
from all of Attica were sent for safety
from the Spartans’ swords within their city Athen’s
thick stone walls, thousands of refugees
penned up like sheep waiting for death.
The Plague killed one in three of them.
I ask the kids to pick an ancient character
and write a sentence or a paragraph
to start the telling of those lives cut short.
After lunch, boys squirm and shout.
One asks, polite amongst the noise,
‘Miss, will you write a poem for us?’
(First published in Jenny’s poetry collection, ‘The Loyalty of Chickens’ (Pitt Street Poetry, 2017). Also published in ‘Eureka Street’, January 2018.)
Artwork by Jackie Benney. Published with permission of the artist.