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grasshopper on rose

under a sycamore in the school field
crosslegged brown kneed girls,
grime-edged plasters peeling
from gravel grazes,
blue-black hair in raggedy bunches,
solemnly daisychain the lunch hour away,
as if engaged in some crucial
ceremony of passage.

heads bowed to the close task,
absorbed and content
as sheep cropping grass on a hillside,
placid and self-contained.
whispering together,
confederates at least
until the end of break,
friendships forged
by taking each other seriously.

they unwind their pliant limbs
to stretch under branches,
the shade a sacrament
conferring grace.

the girls are cool and pure, an oasis,
their spirits like chill glasses of milk,
aloof from boisterous games,
while the boys buzz and fizz and hover,
a cloud of insects round a picnic.

savages that whoop around them,
rough and energetic,
mystified by stillness,
defeated by indifference,
wild with their brief freedom
from the classroom’s clock face.
composure incomprehensible
as a chocolate biscuit left on a plate.

constantly at odds with the landscape,
scaling trees and kicking stones,
stamping on ants,
killing for the sake of it.
they abide by time-honoured
bragging rights on bloodshed,
protocols of play, merciless and cruel.

but a handclap can release
them all from bondage
and the whole drama’s
circumlocuted by a bell.

Photo by Belinda Latchford