Torn Wallpaper by Shamima Begum

9th October 1998 at 01:00
Torn Wallpaper

When I was seven
my Dad worked all night
to finish painting my room

I lay in bed finding shapes
on the ceiling.
The wallpaper looked like
a map of Brazil
or a man in a bowler hat.

Last night
I was awake, thinking.
I couldn't sleep.
>Across the hall
they were shouting
round and round in circles
I stared at the ceiling,
trying to find the pictures.
Brazil didn't look like
Brazil anymore.
It was just a piece
of wallpaper, missing.

Shamima Begum

'Torn Wallpaper' has a sophisticated simplicity, built as it is of short, straightforward sentences which avoid adjectives or indeed any other form of comment. It presents the situation and lets that tell the reader about how the writer feels, rather than having to tell us herself. The poem contrasts the present with a remembered childhood security, in a way which suggests that though it is circumstances that have changed (her parents rowing now), what she is really describing is the loss of childhood innocence. As if there were always rows, as indeed there always are, but that she didn't notice. The writer knows at some fundamental level that it's not the parents to blame, but life. This seems to be the point of the 'shapes on the ceiling' idea. What's so good about 'Torn Wallpaper' is that is manages to conceal the art by which it invites interpretation.

Ann Sansom

* Shamima Begum, aged 14, receives 'The New Poetry,' edited by Michael Hulse, David Kennedy and David Morley (Bloodaxe). Submitted by Jane Anderson of Morpeth school, Tower Hamlets, east London, who receives a set of Poetry Society posters with teacher's notes. Please send poems to 'The TES', Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY. Ann Sansom is writing tutor at Doncaster Women's Centre and is a part-time lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University. Her collections include 'Romance' (Bloodaxe).

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