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Sunday, July 19, 2015

To Kill a Child

When I was little, just a boy,
I fell hopelessly in love
with Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird.
It was like a bible to me;
it was not the words, but the poetry
inside the words that touched me--
for that poetry was me,
it was all of us, really.

And I did a very silly thing,
I remember trying to memorise
the whole thing, herding every feeling
word for word into my head;
I would go to sleep at night
with the words floating above my bed.

I was awed, you see, by the wisdom of Atticus,
of the sense we could all see clearly
inside of us, if only we opened our eyes
to the poetry inside our hearts;
and as I grew up I knew
       he was someone I wanted to be,
and when it came to reading
the book for English class, my teacher chose me

       to read the part of Atticus--
the man I idolised. Imagine how happy
and frightened that made me. I would pretend
to read from the page, but I was reading
from the heart; memorised, it still
mesmorised me; and I had to quash the urge

       to close my eyes and just let the words
do the leading. I didn't want the class
to see I was praying
from the pulpit of memory. And the hush
in the spring schoolroom
every time I had to turn
the page was like God listening to me;

and I always came to this memory
with the love that had stayed with me,
until Harper Lee snatched the book back
and I realised she had been lying
to me, like the first bomb thrown
was the sound of God falling
when America invaded Iraq--

and though the story now feels inevitable,
like a farmer trying to stone
the bird already flown,
it's like learning 55 years later
that Atticus is just a racist clone,
that the God who shapes your world
is also a child murderer
of his own.

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