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.

Copyright: 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

More about this poem

Joseph grew up in Roehampton on the outskirts of London. Living in a tower block and other childhood memories feature in many of his poems.

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About Miss Flotsam

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.

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