The Essay

Nineteen nighty five
Nominally fourteen;
I was sitting in the sports hall
pen in hand
the desks apart
a teacher I didn’t know
patrolled the aisles
The English paper said ‘write a story
include a river
and an allegory’

The clock at the front clicks
thin hands jerk and tick
I spin my pen
study the air vents above me
there’s a dusty shuttlecock
caught up in the pipework
there’s a brown deflated football
sitting on the skylight
I need to start writing…

I wasn’t a reader, then
I knew nothing much of stories
I’d watched a lot of films
I’d heard a lot of pop songs
but I wasn’t a writer

Unimpressed by the aesthetic
the muted light inside the sports hall
I pushed my mind 
out onto the playing fields
down the long road past the waterworks
to the river on the edge of town

And I could see it there
a bend in the channel where
a tree had lost its leaves
a tree was clinging 
to the dry mud of the riverbank
being undercut by the flowing water
being ever exposed by the erosion
being deposed

And I started to write
of the tree being cut and torn
being pulled and weakened
by the hunger of the river
Hanging on with every root
and the river’s endless running

The more I wrote 
the sadder I felt for the tree
the more I wrote
the more the tree’s plight mirrored something I’d seen
the more I wrote the more I saw
my mother’s best friend’s fight with cancer 
revealed before me
The more I wrote the more I saw her face
looking back at me
and the more the story moved me

And the tree succumbed
to the river’s flow
as all things will, eventually

That essay was the first time I wrote something
with any meaning
handed my paper back 
a tear-stain just above my name
That was the first time I wrote something
and I haven’t stopped since…


Thanks for reading.

Photo credit:

Published by

Tom Alexander

"Art is a lie that tells the truth"

11 thoughts on “The Essay”

      1. I have the opposite problem. I’m addicted to rhyming. But I’ve let my tongue loose and go the other way as well. And sometimes I really really free style and it’s half rhyme half non-rhyme. I think my biggest struggle is structure tho. 😊 I know there’s supposed to be a lot of rules with poetry but for the most part there’s not supposed to be any but yet… Rule after rule. So sometimes I really get down and dirty and let it all go.

        Liked by 2 people

  1. I can relate to this in an odd way. When studying poems I never really appreciated them but this was before I started writing them myself. I regret not making more of an effort when studying them now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know what you mean. For me, everything I did at school felt like ‘work’ and I was lazy. Even when doing creative writing projects (which I always loved) I never put two and two together and I realised that if I enjoyed it, maybe I should engage with it a bit more. Still, got there in the end 🙂

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  2. We all go our own way, and that is what makes literature, prose, and poetry, so exciting, engaging, and, sometimes, so consuming. Thank goodness for individuality, and thank goodness that you started, and didn’t stop Tom!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 🙂 I’ve tried to stop… a few times, I felt like I’d run out of words and thought it was my time to give up writing… and then I wrote hard and furiously about how I had nothing left to say… and wrote some great stuff. There’s no escape!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow thank you, that kind of writing is absolutely the kind I enjoy reading so I’m glad to occasionally create something that might do that for others. Thanks for reading Tara, I really appreciate it.

      Liked by 1 person

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