SPITTING ON ANOTHER MASTER’S GRAVE #nationalschool #1980s #smalltownireland
It was bright October in our holy school & the dazzle of afternoon was sowing
our classroom. Even the master was smiling.
Smiling at us with amused eyes
& telling some rambling tale
from a campfire of his youth,
the same one he recounted
whenever a smile spread across his face like a crack in a tomb. It put us all
in a celebratory, open-hearted mood.
Somehow the master got on to The Milky Way,
which he declared a star.
Up I piped, Sir! Sir!
Sir! Sir! Sir! piped I.
‘The Milky Way is not a star, it’s a galaxy.’
This he irritatedly refused to accept,
nor would I condescend to backdown,
until it was time to appeal to authority.￼￼
So the master donned his reading spectacles, retrieved Britannica volume M-L from the one lone shelf of The Enlightenment in his library of medieval ignorance. Turning his back to the class, he buried his snout in the relevant entry.
Two minutes later he swung around inflamed & roughly roared at us to get out our Irish books……
……Next day in our holy school, dedicated to The Virgin, blessed by many bishops, the master approached my desk at the front of the class, which I shared with another 9 year old boy, in a a room full of 9 year old boys. He was gripping an ant between his finger & thumb. He deposited the ant in front of me on the desk. He then pointed at the ant & said ‘What’s that in front of you Lordan? Cad é seo, ha?’
I stuttered, not knowing what to say. Not knowing what was up. The master picked up the ant & held it to his right eye to examine it. ‘Nits’ he announced. ‘You’ve got nits you dirty animal, so many nits they’re hopping onto the desk offa you.’ Then the master held the ant up & out towards the classroom the way to give them all a good gawk and confirm his discovery. And there was an uproar of cruel, callous merriment at my expense that lasted for many months.
My nickname for the rest of that school year was Nits. I heard it every day a thousand times. Shouted at me in the corridor, chanted at me in the yard, whispered about me in the líne, inked about me on every toilet door in the school. Nits Nits Nits Nits…..I was the spittoon of that classroom – everyone hawked their poison up on me. It nearly drove me to suicide at 9 years of age.
And yet, it’s not me that’s dead. It’s not me that’s shamed. It’s not me that stands eternally condemned. It’s him. Once, he was briefly my destiny. Now, I am permanently his. And the Milky Way is still a galaxy, not a star. And a master is still only a master. And a poet, even at 9 years of age, universally greater.
I am your smile now cruel master. And I laugh a laugh that is infinitely crueler. My spit is in your mouth. My green phlegm is all over your grave, forever, and you may slurp it sticky-cold from the stones from here on in – until stars become galaxies, until bishops are holy, until wine turns into blood.
Omadhaun master, this is your monument and I am the chief of your memory, I am the abyss of your posterity now.
Unsealable for good.