high school

Friday night, 1997

Locked gate with heavy rusted lock,

Metal fence with chain link,

One section broken, wire opens back like a flap of skin,

Allows us to duck in.

Cement columns holding up the highway,

The overpass, dirt floor and vandalised walls.

Someone has a fire burning in a metal barrel.

The kids stand around nervously warming their hands in the strange half light.

Cigarettes and laughter, stories of sex and drugs

I watch mesmorised as two older kids kiss,

The girl has dark hair and black eyes.

A firecracker is lit and explodes in the night,

The sound of traffic above is a roar

And the night runs on like sharp needles and broken bottles.

A homeless man was murdered here

Simon claims.

John, the school’s football hero,

Sneers and takes his three friends away.

But we sit by the fire on the cold cement ledge

And talk about Mickey and how he and Wade were arrested one night

And someone throws another bottle and we watch it explode into shards.

Tom and Ben would have to sleep in the abandoned shop on main street

Because they’d been kicked out of home.

They sit apart and look thin and proud.

Jenny’s mother has a new boyfriend and she can’t stand him

Sandy is pregnant and Mat wants her to abort it,

Robert is gay

And his boyfriend will be here soon.

Friday night, winter, thoughts of girls and grown up jobs,

No money to spend and stolen beer.

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High school part 2 – The Poem

Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society

My high school- Saint Michaels Regional High School, Wagga Wagga, (now closed) used to produced a year book /magazine. Contained within was the best writing the students could produce. It would come from both school work submitted by teachers and work submitted directly to the journal by students.

It was edited by one of the English teachers, a woman who loved To Kill A Mockingbird and ensured that every student in year nine read it. She was a great teacher.

It happened to be year nine when I decided I would contribute a poem to the journal and see if they would include it. I worked on it every night for a week. I cannot remember how it went now, but  I remember it was about robots and I remember the hours of work I put into it.

I submitted but did not hear back. When the magazine came out I grabbed my copy and searched through it. My work was not included. Three of my friends were published, one wrote a poem about a racing car that went something like:

Engines roar

green light, cars race

hugging the road, tires squeal

a car explodes against a barrier

the race is urgent, deadly, defining

number six finishes first.

The crowd roars and swarms toward the hero.

A good poem from a 14 or 15 year old.

Another was about a guy who finds a million dollars or something but the third was something else. It was written by Matthew Romaro. It was of such a high quality our teacher stood at the front of class one day when Romaro was not there and said (i remember her words clearly) “He is such a talented writer, he has the brains, if only he would apply himself.”

Romaro was a poor student. He would ignore the teachers, even embarrass the less gifted teachers, he would skip class, he would scream out animal noises during class. He was a legend because he had once made a teacher cry during class. He was a clown and we loved him.

I still remember his poem and you can read it below.

The teacher saw me going through the pages during class and came up to me.

“David,” she said in a sweet voice, “I know your poem didn’t make it this year.”
I looked up at her with devastated eyes.

“It just didn’t have the quality of the others. It would have made it but there wasn’t the room. I did not expect the poem from Matthew. Did you read it?” She looked over a the empty desk where Matthew usually sat and let out a sigh. “He has such talent.”

I re-read Matthew’s poem. It was incredible, I was intimidated by his literary power. I cursed my childish poem. I spent hours looking at that poem.

Then came the whispers on the playground that Matthew did not write the poem at all, that he had stolen it from a book or that his father who was a university professor had written it for him. I did not believe these rumors completely. There was something extraordinary about Matthew, there was something otherworldly about him, that he could do anything. He could skip school, he could fail tests but when he wanted to, he could produce award winning literature.

The next week his name was read out at a school assembly, he was awarded a merit notice for his work in English class. The only one he had ever received. I was happy for him, I accepted that I was not entitled to a place in the literary books, I had to work harder to earn publication.

Here is his poem:

WHEN THE QUIET THINGS SPEAK
BY MATTHEW ROMARO 1996
When the wind blows
the quiet things speak.
Some whisper, some clang,
Some creak.

Grasses swish.
Treetops sigh.
Flags slap
and snap at the sky.
Wires on poles
whistle and hum.
Ashcans roll.
Windows drum.

When the wind goes —
suddenly
then,
the quiet things
are quiet again.

Years went by and I would return to this poem.

I am uncertain what happened to Matthew but I don’t think he ever again wrote anything of great note.

One afternoon, just before I went away to university to study among other things English literature, I went on the internet. (something not available when I was in high school) and decided to search that poem Matthew submitted, just to make sure it was his. I found this:

WIND SONG
by Lilian Moore 1967
When the wind blows
the quiet things speak.
Some whisper, some clang,
Some creak.

Grasses swish.
Treetops sigh.
Flags slap
and snap at the sky.
Wires on poles
whistle and hum.
Ashcans roll.
Windows drum.

When the wind goes —
suddenly
then,
the quiet things
are quiet again.

I laughed. He had pulled a great prank over all of us. The teachers had all been fooled. I felt a little better about myself too. My poem about robots might not have been too bad for a fourteen year old after all.

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My debut novel The Bomber is out 24th of June 2015.

I simply took David Copperfield and put a new cover on it.

High School

When I was thirteen I made it onto the all stars debating team. I was not good enough to be one of the four debaters, instead I was in a back up role. What they called the trust. If one of the debaters was sick I would step in, but my main role was to look up things in the dictionary and help write debates. I was on the bench.

The team was traveling to a nearby city to debate another school. I lived in Wagga Wagga, (a very small city) and we were going to Albury, (a comparably sized city) to debate their best team. We piled into the tiny bus and headed away.

The head of the debate team was someone I held in great respect. I thought he was astonishingly intelligent. I knew he was terrible at sports, I knew he was not popular with girls but, where I knew Shakespeare was a literary god, he knew and had read the actual plays, where I was aware of the world of Charles Dickens, he knew the characters intimately. It was like I was a boy in a blacking factory peering out into the cold London street of literature through a foggy pane, while he was in the globe theatre itself writing and performing the plays.

He was sixteen years old, he was over six feet tall, he commanded the debate team with a sure and decisive hand. If we were to win the debate it would be down to him.

We sat up the back of the bus, we owned the highway. The leader, I will call him Tom, began to speak.

“Lets play a game,” he said. “I will ask questions and see if you guys can get them right. First question to you Michael.”
Michael was a nice guy, same age as me. He is now a surgeon.
“What year heralded the beginning of the French Revolution?” Tom asked.

Michael thought for a moment. “1789?” he said.

“Yep.” Tom went through the players and they all answered correctly. He came to me.

“Easy one for you,” he said, “What is the capital of France?”

I knew the answer, but I was so nervous I could not get it. I just could not get the word out.

“Don’t you know?” he asked, leering at me with disdain.

“Uhh,” was all I could say.

“Anyone?” He finally said.

“Paris,” they all shouted.

Tom looked at me in disgust.

The actual debate did not go too well for me either. In the class room where it was held the teacher asked us why there were five of us.

“He’s the trust,” we answered her.

“No, we don’t do that here, that’s cheating.”

I answered quickly, “I’ll just sit and watch then.”

“No you won’t!” she bellowed. “You’ll sit outside, keep quiet and don’t wander off anywhere.”
So for the debate I sat outside and waited. Anger welling up inside me. One time I moved away and she came rushing out and telling me to stay where I was, sitting on the ground.

When the debate was finished I was so angry I did not even ask how it went. I think we lost. That teacher was a real son of a bitch.

A few months later, before Tom graduated to Senior high, we held a writers group after school where all the kids wanting to be writers came together to talk about our work.

It was held in Mr. Hall’s English classroom. (Mr. Hall being the greatest English teacher at our school).

After the last bell, we rushed down to a corner store next to the school, loaded our pockets with  candy and sugary lollies, and came back to class.

Tom called every one around and took out a huge folder.

“This is my novel,” he said, “It is almost finished.”

He opened the folder and there were hundreds of pages of writing, thousands and thousands of words, a real novel. No one could have guessed he had such a treasure. Where we were writing poems about motorbikes and army men he had written a real book.

He let us read the first lines. The penmanship was neat easy to read. It began something like:

“On the planet Grossmorss something moved about the craters. It oozed like slime, but was hard enough to move huge rocks aside like pebbles. Captain Tom Draft sat at the controls of the Space-Eagle trying to charge the batteries for lift off when he heard a noise like tearing metal coming form the base of the ship…”
“That’s enough,” he said and slapped the folder shut.

“That was great Tom,” I said.

He looked at me, I could not tell if he recognized me or not.

“I want to be a writer one day,” I said.
“What do you want to write, verse or prose?”
I was unsure, “books,” I said.

“I don’t think any one would read your stuff,” he declared. “If you ever write a book it will never be as good as this.” he slapped his hand on his folder.

Those words still haunt me. I think he is still writing, I know he is an English teacher now. I keep expecting to see his name announced in the new releases, I still expect to see his book about Captain Tom Draft in the book stores and it worries me that it will be a better book than mine.

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THE BOMBER is out 24th of June with Pen Name Publishing.

The main character is not Capt. Tom Draft but someone somewhat similar.