Laughter Lines

The history class cracked up when I joked
that Mr Maddock had told us a mere Jaffa ruled
as a warlord rather than the Emir of Jaffa. So
criminal guilty of causing grievous laughter, I am
in a cabbage-stenched detention hall,
my fountain pen reams out futility,
no boredom remission but for the BOLLOCKS
compass-carved in capitals by a disused inkwell,
my caned, bruise-fattened arse throbbing clenched
as hunched anger scribbles a thousand lines:
I must not act daft.

Across the aisle, for yapping in English Language
Norman Jones must now churn out five hundred
Empty vessels make most noise
next to Donald Tink who left French homework
on the bus so is now imprisoned for a thousand
When a man is idle, what doth
it most of all behove him to do?

Outside, council houses and smoke-sheened hills play
sight-screen for good boys cricketting in fading light,
overs spinning towards a finish long before Tink,
his tea gone cold, his mother worried sick,
his father waiting ready with the strap.

Done, I jab my foolscap script into Shellshock Sid
still with shakes from the Somme. Pages trembling,
he stammers some of it is rushed, illegible, and
makes no sense. None of it I think before he blurts,
‘G-go b-boy. And l-let that b-be a l-lesson to you.’
Still sore, I am not sorry for his cruel consonants
but do not snigger like resting Tink who rubs away
wrist cramp gazing out to the mist-wisped pitch.

Only he is left as I stump down empty corridors
wafted through with the scent of outfield mowing
to an evening that unfurls in a bloom of words.
After the essay on How Green Was My Valley,
unfettered, I twizzle through humming and crackle
from the wireless dial, searching for the Light
and Third Programmes: plays, talks, jokes, songs,
poetry – language for pleasure not punishment. And
The Goons to make nonsense of it all, to crease me up.

– by John Lancaster. This poem was Commended in the 2016 Competition

John also won Third Prize. See The Wedding Speech for his photo and biography.