The Reading Lesson

Fourteen years old, learning the alphabet, 
He finds letters harder to catch than hares 
Without a greyhound. Can’t I give him a dog 
To track them down, or put them in a cage? 
He’s caught in a trap, until I let him go, 
Pinioned by “Don’t you want to learn to read?”
“I’ll be the same man whatever I do”. 

He looks at the page as a mule balks at a gap 
From which a goat may hobble out and bleat. 
His eyes jink from a sentence like flushed snipe 
Escaping shot. A sharp word, and he’ll mooch 
Back to his piebald mare and bantam cock. 
Our purpose is as tricky to retrieve 
As mercury from a smashed thermometer. 

“I’ll not read any more”. Should I give up? 
His hands, long-fingered as a Celtic scribe’s, 
Will grow callous, gathering sticks or scrap; 
Exploring pockets of the horny drunk 
Loiterers at the fairs, giving them lice. 
A neighbour chuckles. “You can never tame 
The wild duck: when his wings grow, he’ll fly off ”. 

If books resembled roads, he’d quickly read: 
But they’re small farms to him, fenced by the page, 
Ploughed into lines, with letters drilled like oats: 
A field of tasks he’ll always be outside. 
If words were bank notes, he would filch a wad; 
If they were pheasants, they’d be in his pot 
For breakfast, or if wrens he’d make them king.

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