When I first learned to spell my name,
I imagined that the letters had stories—
a horseshoe on a stick made up the P,
a tent with a crossbar made up the A,
and a headless crucifix finished off the T.
U was my favourite because it had so many stories—
it was a magnet, a jump-rope, a snake,
a falling rollercoaster, a thimble, a giant toe.
Letters were made of stories,
not the other way around.
“Spell ‘color’,” Sister Catherine asked.
The stories came quickly. “C-o-l-o-u-r, colour.”
The cave of her mouth opened to say “no”— a perfect O,
it reminded me of a hole, a coin, a wheel, a planet.
My mother, from Belfast, had taught me to read
the children’s stories she knew so that I might get ahead.
Clive and Honoria explored castles and went fox-hunting.
They had tea at four, jamcakes, holidays in the Lake District.
I read book after book about them. They were my friends.
They were good students, and they knew how to spell.
“Spell color,” Sister Catherine commanded. “And this time,
spell it like an American.”
And so, I passed her class—
the blood in my brain
was purged forward.
Copyright Patrick Hicks 2008