Teresa Brewer

On the Good Ship Lollipop

Leggi il Testo,la Traduzione in Italiano, scopri il Significato e guarda il Video musicale di On the Good Ship Lollipop di Teresa Brewer . “On the Good Ship Lollipop” è una canzone di Teresa Brewer. On the Good Ship Lollipop Lyrics.

TESTO - Teresa Brewer - On the Good Ship Lollipop


TESTO - Teresa Brewer - On the Good Ship Lollipop

It was a girl in the Third Form, Carolann Clare
Who, bored with the lesson, the rivers of England –
Brathay, Coquet, Crake, Dee, Don, Goyt
Rothay, Tyne, Swale, Tees, Wear, Wharfe
Had passed, a note, which has never been found
To the classmate in front, Emily Jane, a girl
Who adored the teacher, Miss V. Dunn MA
Steadily squeaking her chalk on the board –
Allen, Clough, Duddon, Feugh, Greta, Hindburn
Irwell, Kent, Leven, Lowther, Lune, Sprint

But who furtively opened the folded note
Torn from the back of the King James Bible, read
What was scribbled there and laughed out loud

It was a miserable, lowering winter’s day. The girls
Had been kept indoors at break – Wet Play
In the Hall – the windows tall and thin
Sad with rain like a song list of watery names –

Rawthey, Roeburn, Skirfare, Troutbeck, Wash

Likewise, the sound of the laugh of Emily Jane
Was a liquid one, a gurgle, a ripple, a dribble
A babble, a gargle, a plash, a splash of a laugh

Like the sudden jackpot leap of a silver fish
In the purse of a pool. No fool, Emily Jane
Clamped her turquoise hand – her fountain pen leaked –
To her mouth; but the laugh was out, was at large
Was heard by the pupil twinned to her double desk –

Rosemary Beth – the brace on whose jiggly teeth
Couldn’t restrain the gulping giggle she gave

Which caused Miss Dunn to spin round. Perhaps
She said, We can all share the joke? But Emily Jane
Had scrunched and dropped the note with the joke
To the floor and kicked it across to Jennifer Kay
Who snorted and toed it across to Marjorie May

Who spluttered and heeled it backwards
To Jessica Kate. Girls! By now, every girl in the form
Had started to snigger or snicker or titter or chuckle
Or chortle
till the classroom came to the boil
With a brothy mirth
. Girls! Miss Dunn’s shrill voice
Scraped Top G
and only made matters worse

Five minutes passed in a cauldron of noise

No one could seem to stop. Each tried holding
Her breath or thinking of death or pinching
Her thigh, only to catch the eye of a pal
A crimson, shaking, silent girl, and explode
Through the noise in a cackling sneeze. Thank you!
Please! Screeched Miss Dunn, clapping her hands
As though she applauded the choir they’d become

A percussion of trills and whoops filling the room
Like birds in a cage.
But then came a triple rap
At the door and in stalked Miss Fife, Head of Maths
Whose cold equations of eyes scanned the desks
For a suitable scapegoat.
Stand up, Geraldine Ruth
Geraldine Ruth got to her feet, a pale girl, a girl
Who looked, in the stale classroom light, like a sketch
For a girl, a first draft to be crumpled and crunched
And tossed away like a note. She cleared her throat
Raising her eyes, water and sky, to look at Miss Fife
The girls who were there that day never forgot
How invisible crayons seemed to colour in
Geraldine Ruth, white face to puce, mousey hair
Suddenly gifted with health and youth, and how –

As Miss Fife demanded what was the meaning of this –
Her lips split from the closed bud of a kiss
To the daisy chain of a grin and how then she yodelled
A laugh with the full, open, blooming rose of her throat

A flower of merriment.
What’s the big joke?
Thundered Miss Fife as Miss Dunn
began again
To clap, as gargling Geraldine Ruth collapsed
In a heap on her desk, as the rest of the class
Hollered and hooted and howled. Miss Fife strode
On sharp heels to the blackboard, snatched up
A finger of chalk and jabbed and slashed out
A word.
SILENCE. But the class next door
Fourth Years learning the Beaufort scale with Miss Batt
Could hear the commotion. Miss Batt droned on –
Nought, calm; one, light air; two, light breeze; three
Gentle . . . four, moderate . . . five, fresh . . . six, strong breeze;
Seven, moderate gale . . .
Stephanie Fay started to laugh

What’s so amusing, Stephanie Fay? barked Miss Batt
What’s so amusing? echoed unwitting Miss Dunn
On the other side of the wall. Precisely what’s
So amusing? chorused Miss Fife. The Fourth Years
Shrieked with amazed delight and one wag
Angela Joy, popped her head in the jaws of her desk
And bellowed What’s so amusing? What’s so
Amusing? into its musty yawn. The Third Form
Guffawed afresh at the sound of the Fourth
And the noise of the two combined was heard
By the First Form, trying to get Shakespeare by heart

To the beat of the ruler of Mrs Mackay. Don’t look
At your books, look at me. After three. Friends

Romans, Countrymen . . . What’s so amusing? rapped out
Mrs Mackay as the First Years chirruped
And trilled like baby birds in a nest at a worm;

But she heard for herself, appalled, the chaos
Coming in waves through the wall and clipped
To the door. Uproar. And her Head of Lower School!
It was then that Mrs Mackay made mistake number one
Leaving her form on its own while she went to see
To the forms of Miss Batt and Miss Dunn. The moment
She’d gone, the room blossomed with paper planes
Ink bombs, whistles, snatches of song, and the class clown –
Caroline Joan – stood on her desk and took up
The speech where Mrs Mackay had left off
– Lend

Me your ears . . . just what the Second Form did
In the opposite room, reciting the Poets Laureate
For Miss Nadimbaba – John Dryden, Thomas Shadwell
Nahum Tate, Nicholas Rowe, Laurence Eusden, Colley Cibber
William Whitehead
. . . but scattering titters and giggles
Like noisy confetti on reaching Henry Pye as Carline Joan
Belted out Antony’s speech in an Elvis style –
For Brutus, uh huh huh, is an honourable man
Miss Nadimbaba, no fan of rock ‘n’ roll, could scarcely
Believe her ears, deducing at once that Mrs Mackay
Was not with her class. She popped an anxious head
Outside her door. Anarchy roared in her face
Like a tropical wind.
The corridor clock was at four

The last bell rang.
Although they would later regret it

The teachers, taking their cue from wits-end Mrs Mackay
Allowed the chuckling, bright-eyed, mirthful girls
To go home, reprimand-free, each woman privately glad
That the dark afternoon was over and done
The chalky words rubbed away to dance as dust

On the air, the dates, the battles, the kings and queens
The rivers and tributaries, poets, painters, playwrights
Politicos, popes
. . . but they all agreed to make it quite clear
In tomorrow’s Assembly that foolish behaviour –
Even if only the once – wasn’t admired or desired
At Stafford Girls’ High. Above the school, the moon
Was pinned like a monitor’s badge to the sky

Miss Dunn was the first to depart,
Her bicycle through the gates, noticing how
The sky had cleared, a tidy diagram of the Plough
Directly above. She liked it this cold, her breath
Chiffoning out behind as she freewheeled home
Down the hill
, her mind emptying itself of geography
Of mountains and seas and deserts and forests
And capital cities. Her small terraced house looked
She thought, like a sleeping face. She roused it

Each evening, kisses of light on its cheeks

From her lamps, the small talk of cutlery, pots
And pans as she cooked, sweet silver steam caressing

The shy rooms
of her home. Miss Dunn live alone

So did Miss Batt, in a flat on the edge of the park
Near the school; though this evening Miss Fife
Was coming for supper. The two were good friends
And Miss Fife liked to play on Miss Batt’s small piano
After the meal and the slowly shared carafe of wine
Music and Maths!
Johann Sebastian Bach! Miss Batt
An all-rounder, took out her marking – essays on Henry VIII
And his wives from the Fifth – while Miss Fife gave herself up
To Minuet in G.
In between Catherine Howard
And Catherine Parr, Miss Batt glanced across at Fifi’s
Straight back as she played, each teacher conscious
Of each woman’s silently virtuous love
. Nights like this
Twice a week, after school, for them both, seemed enough

Mrs Mackay often gave Miss Nadimbaba a lift
As they both, by coincidence, lived on Mulberry Drive –
Mrs Mackay with her husband of twenty-five grinding
Childless years;
Miss Nadimbaba sharing a house
With her elderly aunt.
Neither had ever invited
The other one in,
although each would politely enquire
After her colleague’s invisible half. Mrs Mackay
Watched Miss Nadimbaba open her purple door and saw
A cat rubbing itself on her calf.
She pulled away
From the kerb, worrying whether Mr Mackay would insist
On fish for his meal. Then he would do his crossword:
Mr Mackay calling out clues –
Kind of court for a bounder (8) –
While she passed him Roget, Brewer, Pears, the OED

The women teachers of England slept in their beds
Their shrewd or wise or sensible heads safe vessels

For Othello’s jealousy, the Wife of Bath’s warm laugh
The phases of the moon
, the country code;
For Roman numerals, Greek alphabets, French verbs;
For foreign currencies and Latin roots, for logarithms, tables
Quotes; the meanings of current calamo and fiat lux and stet
Miss Dunn dreamed of a freezing white terrain
Where slowly moving elephants were made of ice

Miss Nadimbaba dreamed she knelt to kiss Miss Barrett
On her couch and she, Miss Nadimbaba, was Browning

Saying Beloved, be my wife . . . and then a dog began to bark
And she woke up. Miss Batt dreamed of Miss Fife

* * *

Morning assembly – the world like Quink outside

The teachers perched in a solemn row on the stage
The Fifth and Sixth Forms clever and tall
, Miss Fife
At the school piano, the Head herself, Doctor Bream
At the stand – was a serious affair. Jerusalem hung
In the air
till the last of Miss Fife’s big chords
Wobbled away
. Yesterday, intoned Doctor Bream
The Lower school behaved in a foolish way, sniggering
For the most of the late afternoon. She glared at the girls
Through her pince-nez
and paused for dramatic effect
But the First and Second and Third and Fourth Forms
Started to laugh, each girl trying to swallow it down
Till the sound was like distant thunder, the opening chord

Of a storm
. Miss Dunn and Miss Batt, Miss Nadimbaba
And Mrs Mackay leapt to their feet as one, grim-faced
The Fifth Form hooted and howled. Miss Fife, oddly disturbed
Crashed down fistfuls of furious notes on the yellowing keys

The Sixth Forms, upper and lower, shrieked. Señora Devizes
Sartorial, strict, slim, server teacher of Spanish
Stalked from the stage and stilettoed sharply down
To the back of the Hall to chastise the Fifth and Sixth
¡Callaos! ¡Callaos! ¡Callaos! ¡Quédense! The whole school
Guffawed; their pink young lungs flowering more

Than they had for the hymn. ¡El clamor! The Hall was a zoo
Snow began falling outside as though the clouds
Were being slowly torn up like a rule book
. A good laugh

As the poet Ursula Fleur, who attended the school
Was to famously write, is feasting on air. The air that day
Was chomped, chewed, bitten in two, pulled apart
Like a wishbone, licked like a lollipop, sluiced and sucked
Some of the girls were almost sick. Girls gulped or sipped
Or slurped as they savoured the joke.
What joke?

Nobody knew. A silly joy sparkled and fizzed. Tabitha Rose
Flower monitor for the day, wet herself, wailed, wept, ran
From the Hall, a small human shower of rain. The bell
For the start of lessons rang. Somehow the school
Filed out in a raggedly line. The Head Girl, Josephine June
Scarlet-faced from killing herself, was in for a terrible time

With the Head. Snow iced the school like a giant cake

No one on record recalls the words that were said
But Josephine June was stripped of the Head Girl’s badge
And sash and sent to the Sixth Form Common Room
To demand of the prefects how they could hope to grow to be
The finest of England’s daughters and mothers and wives
After this morning’s Assembly’s abysmal affair?

But the crowd of girls gave a massive cheer, stamping
The floor with their feet in a rebel beat and Diana Kim
Captain of Sports, jumped on a chair and declared
That if J.J. was no longer Head Girl then no one
Would take her place. All for one! Someone yelled. And one
For all!
Diana Kim opened the window and jumped down
Into the snow. With a shriek, Emmeline Bell jumped after her

Followed by cackling Anthea Meg, Melanie Hope, Andrea Lyn
J.J. herself . . . It was Gillian Tess in the Fifth, being lectured
By tight-lipped Señora Devizes on how to behave, who glanced
From the first-floor window and noticed the Sixth Form
Bouncing around in the snow like girls on the moon

A snowball, the size of a netball, was creaking, rolling
Growing under their hands. Look! Girls at their windows gaped
It grew from a ball to the size of a classroom globe. It grew
From a globe to the size of a huge balloon. Miss Dunn
Drumming the world’s highest mountains into the heads
Of the First Years – Everest, K2, Kangchenjunga, Lhoste, Makalu 1
Flung open her window and breathed in the passionate cold
Of the snow. A wild thought seeded itself in her head

In later years,
the size of the snowball rolled by the Sixth
Grew like a legend. Some claimed that the Head, as it groaned
Past her study, thought that there might have been an eclipse
Ursula Fleur, in her prose poem Snow
, wrote that it took
The rest of the Michaelmas Term to melt. Miss Batt
Vacantly staring down as her class wrote out a list
Of the monarchs of England – Egbert, Ethelwulf, Ethelbald
Ethelbert, Ethelred, Alfred, Edward, Athelstan, Edmund
Eadred, Eadwing, Edga
r . . . noticed the snowball, huge and alone
On the hockey pitch, startlingly white in the pencil grey
Of the light, and thought of desire, of piano scales slowing
Slowing, breasts. She moaned aloud, forgetful of where
She was. Francesca Eve echoed the moan.
The class roared

But that night Miss Batt, while she cooked for Miss Fife
Who was opening the wine with a corkscrew
From the last year’s school trip to Sienna and Florence
Felt herself naked
, electric under her tartan skirt, twin set
And pearls; and later, Miss Fife at the piano, stroking
The first notes of Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight’ Sonata
, Miss Batt
Came behind her, placing her inked and trembling hands
On her shoulders. A broken A minor chord stumbled
And died. Miss Fife said that Ludwig could only
Have written this piece when he was in love. Miss Batt
Pulled Miss Fife by the hair, turning her face around, hearing
Her gasp, bending down, kissing her, kissing her, kissing her

Essays on Cardinal Wolsey lay unmarked
on the floor

Across the hushed white park, down the slush of the hill
Miss Dunn crouched on the floor of her sitting room
Over a map of Tibet. The whisky glass in her nervous hand
Clunked on her teeth, Talisker sheathing her tongue
In a heroine’s warmth.
She moved her finger slowly
Over the map, the roof of the world. Her fingers walked to Nepal
Changing the mountain Chomulungma to Sagarmatha
She sipped at her malt and thought about Mallory, lost
On Everest’s slopes with his English Air, of how he’d wanted
To reach the summit because it was there.
She wondered
Whether he had. Nobody knew. She was herself walking
The upper slopes with the Captain of Sports towards
The foetal shape of a sleeping man
. . . She turned to the girl

* * *

That Monday morning Doctor Bream, at her desk
Didn’t yet know that the laughter of Stafford Girls’ High
Would not go away. But when she stood on the stage
Garbed in her Cambridge cap and gown, and told the school
To quietly stand and contemplate a fresh and serious start
To the week, and closed her eyes – the hush like an air balloon
Tethered with ropes – a low and vulgar
giggle yanked
At the silence. Doctor Bream kept her eyes clenched, hoping
That if she ignored it all would be well. Clumps of laughter
Sprouted among the row upon row of girls. Doctor Bream
Determined and blind, started the morning’s hymn. I vow
To thee my country . . . A flushed Miss Fife started to play
All earthly things above . . . The rest of the staff joined in –

Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love
The love that asks no questions, the love that stands the test
But the girls were hysterical, watching the Head
Queen Canute, singing against the tide
of their mirth
Their shoals, their glittering laughter. She opened her eyes –
Clarice Maud Bream, MBE, DLitt – and saw, in the giggling sea
One face which seemed to her to be worse, cheekier
Redder and louder, than all of the rest. Nigella Dawn
Was fished by the Head from her seat and made to stand
On a chair on the stage. Laughter drained from the Hall. This girl
Boomed the Head, will stand on this chair for as long as it takes
For the school to come to its senses. SILENCE! The whole school
Stood like a crowd waiting for news. The bell rang. Nobody

Moved. Nobody made a sound. Minutes slinked away
As Nigella Dawn swayed on her creaky chair. The First Years
Stared in shame at their shoes. The Head’s tight smile
Was a tick. That, she thought, in a phrase of her mother’s
Has put the tin lid on that. A thin high whine, a kitten
Wind on a wire, came from behind. The school
Seemed to hold its breath. Nigella Dawn shook on her chair
The sound came again, louder. Doctor Bream looked to the staff
Miss Batt had her head in her lap and was keening and rocking
Backwards and forwards. The noise put the Head in mind
Of a radio dial – Luxembourg, Light, Hilversum, Welsh –
As though the woman were trying to tune in to herself. Miss Batt
Flung her head back and laughed, laughed like a bride

* * *

Mr and Mrs Mackay silently ate. She eyed him
Boning his fish, slicking it down to the backbone
Sliding the skeleton out, fastidious, deft. She spied him
Eat from the right of his plate to the left, ordered, precise
She clenched herself for his voice. A very nice dish
From the bottomless deep.
Bad words ran in her head like mice
She wanted to write them down like crossword lights
14 Across: F . . . 17 Down: F . . . . . . 2 Down: F
Mr Mackay reached for the OED. She bit her lip. A word
For one who is given to walking by night, not necessarily
In sleep. She felt her heart flare in its dark cave, hungry, blind
Open in its small beak. Beginning with N. Mrs Mackay
Moved to the window and stared at the ravenous night
. Later

Awake in the beached boat of the marital bed, Mrs Mackay
Slid from between the sheets. Her spouse whistled and whined
She dressed in sweater and slacks, in boots, in her old tweed coat
And slipped from the house with a tut of the front door snib
Her breath swaggered away like a genie popped from a flask
She looked for the moon,
found it, arched high over the house
A raised eyebrow of light, and started to walk. The streets
Were empty, darkly sparkling under her feet, ribbons that tied
The sleeping town like a gift. A black cat glared from a wall
Mrs Mackay walked and walked, letting the night
Sigh underneath her clothes, perfume her skin; letting it in
The scented night
– stone, starlight, tree-sleep, rat, owl
A calm rhythm measured itself in her head. Noctambulist

She walked for hours,
till dawn’s soft tip rubbed, smudged
Erased the dark. Back home, she stripped and washed
And dressed for school, moving about in the kitchen
Till Mr Mackay appeared, requesting a four-minute egg
From a satisfied hen.
She watched him slice off the top
With the side of his spoon, dip in his toast, savour the soft gold
Of the yolk with his neat tongue. She thought of the girls
How they’d laughed now for weeks. Panic nipped and salted
Her eyes. And later that day, walking among the giggling desks
Of the Third, she read Cleopatra’s lament
in a shaking voice
As tears shone on her cheeks: Hast thou no care for me?
Shall I abide in this dull word, which in thy absence is
No better than sty? O! see my women, the crown

O’ the earth doth melt. My lord! O! withered is the garland
Of the war, the soldier’s pole is fall’n; young boys and girls
Are level now with men; the odds is gone, and there is nothing
Left remarkable beneath the visiting moon.
Carolann Clare, trapped
In a breathless crippling laugh, seriously thought she would die
Mrs Mackay lay down her book and asked the girls to start
From the top and carry on reading the play round the class

She closed her eyes and seemed to drift off at her desk
The voices of girls shared Shakespeare, line by line, the clock
Over the blackboard crumbling its minutes into the dusty air
From the other side of the wall, light breezes of laughter came
And went. Further away, from the music, room, the sound
Of the orchestra hooted and sneered its way through Grieg

Miss Batt, in the staffroom, marking The War of Jenkins’ Ear
Over and over again, put down her pen. Music reminded her
Of Miss Fife. She lay her head on the table, dizzy with lust, longed
For the four o’clock bell, for home, for pasta and vino rosso
For Fifi’s body on hers in the single bed, for kisses that tasted
Of jotters, of wine.
She picked up an essay and read:
England went to war with Spain because a seaman, Robert
Jenkins, claimed that the Spanish thought him a smuggler
And cut off his ear. He showed the ear in the Commons
And public opinion forced the Government to declare war
On October 23, 1739 . . . Miss Batt cursed under her breath
Slashing a red tick with her pen. The music had stopped. Hilarity
Squealed and screeched in its place down the corridor

Miss Nadimbaba was teaching the poems of Yeats
To the Fifth when the girls in the orchestra laughed. She held
In her hands the poem which made her a scribbler of verse
At twelve or thirteen. ‘The Song’ – she was sick of the laughter
At Stafford Girls’ High – ‘of Wandering Aengus.’ She stared
At the girls in her class who were starting to shake. An epidemic
That’s what it was. It had gone on all term. It was now the air
That they breathed, teachers and girls: a giggling, sniggering
Gurgling, snickering atmosphere, a laughing gas that seeped
Under doors, up corridors, into the gym, the chemistry lab
The swimming pool, into Latin and Spanish and French and Greek
Into Needlework, History, Art, R.K., P.E., into cross-country runs
Into the silver apples of the moon, the golden apples of the sun

Miss Dunn stood with her bike outside school after four
Scanning the silly, cackling girls for a face – Diana Kim’s
The Captain of Sports was tall, red-haired. Her green eyes
Stared at Miss Dunn and Miss Dunn knew. This was a girl
Who would scale a vertical wall of ice with her fingertips
Who would pitch a tent on the lip of a precipice
, who would know
When the light was good, when the wind was bad, when snow
Was powdery or hard. The girl had the stuff of heroines. Diana Kim
Walked with the teacher, pushing her bicycle for her, hearing her
Outline the journey, the great adventure, the climb to the Mother
Of Earth. Something inside her opened and bloomed
Miss Dunn was her destiny, fame, a strong hand pulling her
Higher and higher into the far Tibetan clouds, into the sun

* * *

Doctor Bream was well aware that something had to be done
Laughter, it seemed, was on the curriculum. The girls
Found everything funny, strange; howled or screamed
At the slightest thing. The Headmistress prowled the school
Listening at classroom doors. The new teacher, Mrs Munro
Was reading The Flaying of Marsyas to the Third: Help!
Why are you stripping me from myself? The girls were in fits
Mrs Munro’s tight voice struggled on: It was possible to count
His throbbing organs and the chambers of his lungs. Shrieks
And squeals stabbed the air. Why? At what? Doctor Bream
Snooped on. Miss Batt was teaching the First Form the names
Of the nine major planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars
Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus . . . Pandemonium hooted and whooped

The grim Head passed down the corridor, hearing the Fifth Form
Gargling its way through the Diet of Worms
. She came
To the Honours Board, the names of the old girls written in gold –
Head Girls who had passed into legend, Captains of Sport
Who had played the game, prize-winning girls, girls who’d gone on
To achieve great things. Members of Parliament!
Blasts of laughter
Belched from the playing fields. Doctor Bream walked to her room
And stood by her desk. Her certificates preened behind glass
In the wintery light. Silver medals and trophies and cups gleamed
In the cabinet. She went to the wall – the school photograph
Glinted and glowed, each face like a fingertip; the pupils
Straight-backed, straight-faced; the staff upright, straight-laced

A warm giggle burbled outside. She flung open the door

The empty corridor winked.
She could hear
A distant piano practising Für Elise . . . Señora Devizes
Counting in Spanish in one of the rooms – uno, dos, tres
Cuatro, cinco, seis, siete, ocho, nueve, diez, once, doce
Trece, catorce, quince, diez y seis, diez y siete, diez y ocho

A shrill whistle blowing outside . . . But then a burst of hysteria
Came from the classroom above, rolled down the stairs
Exploded again the classroom below. Mrs Mackay
Frantic, hoarse, could be heard pitching Portia’s speech
Over the hoots of the Fourth: The quality of MERCY
Is not STRAINED. It droppeth as the gentle rain from HEAVEN
Upon the place BENEATH . . . Cackles, like gunfire, crackled
And spat through the school. A cheer boomed from the Gym

It went on thus – through every hymn or poem, catechism
Logarithm, sum, exam; in every classroom, drama room
To music room; on school trips to a factory or farm; from
First to Sixth Form, dunce to academic crème de la crème
Day in, day out; till, towards the end of the Hilary Term

Doctor Bream called yet another meeting in the Staffroom
Determined now to solve the problem of the laughter
Of the girls once and for all. The staff filed in at 4.15 –
Miss Batt, Miss Fife, Miss Dunn, Mrs Munro, the sporty
Mrs Lee, Mrs Mackay, Miss Nadimbaba, the Heads of French
And Science – Miss Feaver, Mirs Kaye – Señora Devizes
The tuneful Miss Aherne, the part-time drama teacher
Mrs Prendergast. The Head stood up and clapped her hands

Miss Fife poured Earl Grey tea. Miss Dunn stood by the window
Staring out. Miss Batt burned at Miss Fife. Mrs Mackay
Sat down and closed her eyes. Miss Nadimbaba churned
The closing couplet of a poem in her head. Miss Feaver
Crossed her legs and smiled at Mrs Lee, who twirled
A squash racquet between her rosy knees. I think we all agree
Said Doctor Bream, that things are past the pale. The girls
Are learning nothing. Discipline’s completely gone
To pot. I’d like to hear from each of you in turn. Mrs Mackay?
Mrs Mackay opened her eyes and sighed. And shook her head
And then she started singing: It was a lover and his lass
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonimo, that o’er
The green cornfield did pass, in the spring time

The only pretty ring time, when birds do sing, hey ding
A ding, ding; sweet lovers love the spring.
A silence fell
Miss Batt looked at Miss Fife and cleared her throat. Miss Fife
And I are leaving at the end of term.
Miss Dunn at the window
Turned. I’m leaving then myself. To have a crack at Everest
The Head sank to a chair. Miss Nadimbaba stood. Then one by one
The staff resigned – to publish poetry, to live in Spain, to form
A tennis club, to run a restaurant in Nice, to tread the boards
To sing in smoky clubs, to translate Ovid into current speech
To study homeopathy
. Doctor Bream was white with shock
And what, she forced herself at last to say, about the girls?
Miss Batt, slowly undressing Fifi in the stockroom in her head
Winked at Miss Fife. She giggled girlishly. Miss Feaver laughed

* * *

Small hours. The moon tracked Mrs Mackay as she reached the edge

Of the sleeping town, houses dwindling to fields, the road
Twisting up and away into the distant hills. She caught her mid
Making anagrams – grow heed, stab, rats – and forced herself
To chant aloud as she walked. Hedgerow. Bats. Star. Her head
Cleared. The town was below her now, dark and hunched
A giant husband bunched in his sleep. Mrs Mackay climbed on
Higher and higher, keeping close to the ditch, till the road snaked
Into a long S then levelled out into open countryside. Shore
Love, steer, low, master, night loom, riven use, no. Horse. Vole
Trees. Owl. Stream. Moonlight. Universe. On. Wed, loop, wand
Drib, tiles, pay thaw, god. Dew. Pool. Dawn. Bird. Stile. Pathway
Dog. She arrived at the fringe of a village as morning broke

Miss Batt held Miss Fife in her arms at dawn, the small room
Chaste with new light
. Miss Fife began to talk in her sleep –
The square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum
Of the squares of the other two sides. Miss Batt slid down
Nuzzled her breastbone, her stomach, kissed down, kissed down
Down to the triangle. The tutting bedside clock
Counted to five. They woke again at seven, stupid with love
Everything they knew – the brightest stars, Sirius, Canopus
Alpha Centauri, Vega; the Roman Emperors, Claudius
Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius; musical terms, allegro, calando
Crescendo, glissando; mathematics, the value of pi
Prime numbers, Cantor’s infinities – only a jumble of words
A jumble of words. A long deep zero groaned from Miss Fife

Miss Dunn took out her list and checked it again
Her class was sniggering its way through a test on Britain’s largest lakes
She mouthed her list like a prayer: socks, mittens, shirt, leggings
Hat, face mask, goggles, harness, karabiners, ice screws, pitons
Helmet, descender, ascender, loops, slings, ice axe, gaiters
Crampons, boots, jacket, hood, trousers, water bottle, urine
Bottle, waste bags, sleeping bag, kit bag, head torch, batteries
Tent, medical kit, maps, stove, butane, radio, fixing line, rope
Cord, stoppers, wands, stakes and chocks and all of it twice
A sprinkle of giggles made her look up. Pass your test to the girl
On your left to be marked. The answers are: Lough Neagh
Lower Lough Erne, Loch Lomond, Loch Ness, Loch Awe, Upper
Lough Erne . . . Diana Kim climbed and climbed in her head

Doctor Bream read through the letter to parents then signed
Her name at the end. The school was to close at the end of term
Until further notice. A dozen resignation notes from the staff lay
On her desk. The Head put her head in her hands and wept

A local journalist lurked at the gates. Señora Devizes
And Miss Nadimbaba entered the room to say that the girls
Were filing into the Hall for the Special Assembly. There was still
No sign of Mrs Mackay. She looked at the shattered Head
And Kipling sprang to Miss Nadimbaba’s lips: If you can force
Your heart and nerve and sinew to server your turn long after they
Are gone . . . Señora Devizes joined in: Persiste aun no tengas
Fuerza, y sólo te quede la voluntad que les dice:
¡Persiste! The Head got to her feet and straightened her back

And so, Doctor Bream summed up, you girls have laughed this once
Great school into the ground. Señora Devizes plans to return
To Spain. Cries of ¡Olé! Miss Batt and Miss Fife have resigned
Wolf whistles. Mrs Prendergast is joining the Theatre Royale
A round of applause crashed on the boards like surf.
The Head stared
At the laughing girls then turned and marched from the stage
Clipped up the polished corridor, banged through the double doors
Crunched down the gravel drive to the Staff Car Park and into her car
Elvis, shrieked Caroline Joan from the Hall, has left the building

A cheer like an avalanche bounced off the roof. The Captain of Sports
Slipped from her seat and followed Miss Dunn. The girls burst
Into song as their mute teachers walked from the stage. Till we
Have built Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land

* * *

The empty school creaked and sighed, its desks the small coffins
Of lessons, its blackboards the tombstones of learning.
The books
In the Library stiffened and yellowed and curled. The portraits
Of gone Headmistresses stared into space. The school groaned

The tiles on its roof falling off in its sleep, its windows as white
As chalk. The grass on the playing fields grew like grass
On a grave.
Doctor Bream stared from her hospital window

Over the fields. She could see the school bell in its tower glint
In the evening sun like a tear in an eye. She turned away. Postcards
And get-well messages from the staff were pinned to the wall
She took down a picture of Everest from Miss Dunn: We leave
Camp II tomorrow if the weather holds to climb the Corridor
To 21,000 feet. Both coping well with altitude. The Sherpas

Mrs Mackay walked through Glen Strathfarrar, mad, muttering
a filthy old pack on her back filled with scavenged loot –
Banana, bottle, blanket, balaclava, bread, blade, bible. She sat
By a stream, filled her bottle and drank. She ate the crusts
The fruit. Kingfisher. Eagle. Heron. Red deer. Midge. The Glen
Darkened and cooled like History. Mrs Mackay lay in the heather
Under her blanket, mumbling lines from Lear: As mad as the vex’d
Sea; singing aloud; crowned with rank fumitory and furrow weeds
With burdocks, hemlocks, nettles, cuckoo-flowers, darnel
Syllables. Syllables. Sleep came suddenly, under the huge black
The chuckling clever stars. The Head at her window looked north
To the clear night sky, to Pollux and Castor, Capella, Polaris
And wondered again what could have become of Mrs Mackay

Rough lads from the town came up to the school to throw stones
Through the glass. Miss Batt and Miss Fife had moved
To a city. They drank in a dark bar where women danced, cheek
To cheek. Miss Batt loved Miss Fife till she sobbed and shook
In her arms. Stray cats prowled through the classrooms, lunging
At mice. Miss Fife dreamed that the school was a huge ship

Floating away from land, all hands lost, steered by a ghost
A woman whose face was the Head’s, was Miss Nadimbaba’s
Then Mrs Mackay’s, Mrs Lee’s, Miss Feaver’s, Miss Dunn’s
Mrs Munro’s, Mrs Kaye’s, Miss Aherne’s, Señora Devizes’
She woke in the darkness, a face over hers, a warm mouth
Kissing the gibberish from her lips
. The school sank in her mind
A black wave taking it down
as she gazed at the woman’s face

Miss Nadimbaba put down her pen and read through her poem
The palms of her hands felt light, that talented ache
She altered a verb and the line jumped on the page like a hooked fish. She needed
To type it up, but the poem was done.
She was dying
To read it aloud to her aunt. She would open some wine
In the hospital, a nurse brought warm milk and a pill to the Head
Who stared through the bars at the blackened hulk of the school
By dawn, at John O’Groats, Mrs Mackay had finally run out of land
She wrote her maiden name with a stick in the sand then walked
Into the sea, steady at first, step by step, till the firm waves lifted her
Under the arms and danced her away like a groom with a bride
High above in the cold sky the seagulls
, like schoolgirls, laughed
Higher again, a teacher fell through the clouds with a girl in her arms

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