A Cold Term at St. Pats

This poem was in my 2014 collection.

I remember when the second Harry Potter book came out, a friend of mine told me the plot: there was this public school, and a huge snake lived in its plumbing, escaping some nights to roam the halls, and if any kid was out of bed and saw it, they would be frozen. Sounded great. When I got round to reading the story years later, it wasn’t what I expected. This is my attempt to write the expected. Theory-types may identify an additional influence through all the ‘cold-fire’ stuff…

A Cold Term at St. Pats



In my father’s garden,

Under the water butt

and the bench,

The ground is


Wet and black

And the witch hazel,

Thin and black

Against the snow,

Jumps like a bird.


A boy, his trousers hitched

To his belly,

Thrusts his legs apart;

This is his game and I am not to play.

A door opens violently

Against my shoulder.

Two boys laugh.

Foul words are spoken

In the dormitories

At night.



On a spring day,

Out on the boundary,

I minutely examine

The grass before me.


A little way off now I see

A snake’s skin


Three overs later

And it is in my hand.



I have made

A further discovery:

The treatment I receive

Is not typical.


Has been seen…



In a study,

With a little shelf of books

And water on a stove,

Wheeler’s legs, pulled up in

Warm and laundered uniform,

Set me alight,


And I know

With great certainty

That it is not for this

That I am singled out.


Rather, it is a question of order.

The pecking order.

I get it, of course,

But – terrible to say –

I see there is a sight

That fails to.



(I am thinking of the snake that got away…)

The beast that sees us

At our ceremonies,

Shorn of the differences

We hold dear.




The Headmaster takes as his text

The blind of Isaiah.

I carry the skin in my pocket,

Now fallen apart.

I feel one scale

then another,

At each –

A mystery.


Earlier, in the bathroom

I held one to the light

and thought of

pots moving in winter

And clear spring air.



Fielding wide once more,

My eyes close

And I raise my face to the sun,

Swearing allegiance

To the cold sight

That curls about the dorms,

Flicking its tail in the library,

Its tongue in chapel.



I was wrong, of course:

The serpent goes unrecognised –

Ferociously so.

I am met with a blind passion

For I see

With immobilising clarity:

Schoolboys with

Scrubbed and bloody cheeks,

Wide collars

And exposed knees,

Hidden excitations

and doughy, fat-steeped thumbs;

Dorms of steaming wood and wool;

Bathrooms with frozen pipes;

The choir by candle light,

And on the cricket pitch

The distant uniformity of whites.


This too I know:

Some of them

Will be swallowed whole.



I am one of the few to travel home by train.


My hope is – of course –

That scales might fall:

The garden in frost

Warm to my eyes;


My head upon my mother’s arm

And my father singing;

A walk across fields,

The girl I am to marry

riding by…

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