KNUCKLE KNOTTED LIBERTY

 

A navy jumper, twice monthly washed, a blue shirt and striped tie
with a red thread. Grey trousers growing tighter though not getting
any longer. I was 12

in patient leather shoes with points to piece the playground’s pricks,
all sweaty under pit and after-school spit and fearless, only, in the face
of other fools, the types

the teachers all cheered for, for their football field finesses
(everyone wants to fit in) and cursed, later, for lack of flare in their classes
(grade goals were not the same

as game goals). Those were the days of ruby red walls and stained floors
I’d stripped one summer, looking for a more tangible form in the simple wood
buried under a carpet

of complicated patterns- knuckle knotted boards that twisted in place
like my feet, knowing that liberty did not live in things beaten into place.
Those days when education

insisted, with its uniform and a ruler to measure the distance of the hair
from the collar, that similarity was the best way to integrate- 30 not-so-neat
navy jumpers, pulled,

stretched and torn at the cuff for the thumb to slip through, 30 ties tied
in tight knots around necks licked by the sweat of the sport instead
of the inspiration

of individuality. Those days when I turned the cumbersome carpet over
in a red bedroom, trying to carve out a single sliver of liberty, fraternity
and equality

that I mistakenly believed should have been cardinal to the classroom.

 

All words by Damien B. Donnelly. School day photograph

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