Young poet

Jackie Kay

* Dusty eyes, white face, rough hairy hands,

long yellow nails

his sheriff's star glimmers in the musty light

and his gun is by his hand waiting for an intruder.

* The wood on the floor creaks and the sofa springs

and all, nearly collapses under my weight. The dust

rises and blows out the open window which claps

open and shut. The man keeps on staring forward

not even glancing at me.

* I can't think of any conversation while twiddling

my thumbs. The vases are cracked, the wallpaper is

falling off and this whole place looks like it's gonna


* I decide to walk away back out the old

rickety swinging door. Then all of a sudden I feel

a hand on my shoulder. He turns me round, looks

me in the eye and croaks "Where

think you...are going, hmm?"

James Burdett, 12, Maharishi school, Ormskirk, Lancashire

"Dusty Eyes" is one of those poems which repays re-reading. Quiet, deceptively prose-like, it works like a scene from a Western - High Noonin words! Like stills in movies, poetry can freeze-frame moments so that a moment can be long, slow and tense.

James Burdett's eye moves around the saloon like a camera. The sheriff is seen in close-up down to the hairs on the back of his hands and his "long yellow nails". All is must and dust, the star of the badge seen as a glimmer, the floorboards creaking. Everything - the old sofa, the peeling walls - is in a state of near collapse and this undercurrent of violence is contained in the final "hand on my shoulder". In this place, we feel, death arrives wearing a sheriff's badge. Cut.

Jackie Kay James Burdett receives Read Me: a Poem for Every Day of the Year (Macmillan). His poem was submitted by Cliff Yates. Jackie Kay is the TES guest poetry critic for the current term. Her most recent collection of poetry for children, The Frog who Dreamed she was an Opera Singer, won the Signal Award. A new collection of short stories, Trout Friday, is due to be published next year by Picador. Please send poems, preferably no longer than 20 lines, to Friday magazine, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX. Include the poet's name, age and address, the name of the submitting teacher and the school address. Or email: The TESBook of Young Poets (pound;9.99), a selection of poems from this column, can be ordered on 0145 617370. A set of posters costs pound;3.99

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Jackie Kay

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