Poem introduction

I think we all have that one teacher we remember with great fondness, for me it was my reception teacher, she was a wonderful woman who had travelled the world and had no end of brilliant stories. I remember that she wore colourful flowing clothes and that she gave me and my classmates the task of digging a pond! This poem is inspired by my wonderful reception teacher and all the amazing teachers I've had the pleasure of meeting in schools over the years, those brilliant teachers who go above and beyond.

Miss Flotsam


Miss Flotsam was my reception teacher.

She had travelled the world.

Brown hair turned golden

under distant suns,

clothes carrying colours

from countless corners of continents.


When my mother's face spilled

a gush of adolescent tears

at the school gates,

Miss Flotsam soaked up the drops

in Peruvian alpaca,

caught splashes

in Himalayan singing bowls,

let sobs fall on Indonesian Gamelans.


Miss Flotsam had flown

through air pockets in jumbo jets,

sailed the seven seas

in opposite directions,

cycled through cyclones

with dengue fever,

soothed mothers

when their hearts heaved.


When the bully punched me

for being too brown,

Miss Flotsam glared at him

with an eye that could turn fists

into begging bowls.


When my mother was late,

the chairs upturned on the desks,

Miss Flotsam read to me

stories of imperfect families

and unexpected heroes.


When I dozed in class

Miss Flotsam let me sleep

through maths,

through lunch,

through the tuk-tuk traffic,

through the home-time bell.


When I was naughty

Miss Flotsam told me off,

asked of the disasters

destroying my home

and placed sandbags around my lies.


Miss Flotsam had climbed peaks

circled by vultures,

waded rivers with unseen bottoms,

bought ugly fruits

in dusty languages

in foreign markets,

spoke to parents

in dialects they could understand,

sang to pupils

in rhythms, they could bear.

first published in Read me at School edited by Gaby Morgan (Macmillan, 2009), © Joseph Coelho 2009, from Werewolf Club Rules: Poems (Frances Lincoln, 2014), used by permission of the author and the publisher

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