Visiting shame

Here, on a morning in late summer
the sun burns off the early mist.
Faintly, I see the dew vaporising
rising against the light.

This morning something is shrunken in me.
I feel caught within, bound down, ashamed.

Sandbach School, lunchtime, 1966.

Three of us have been spotted not wearing our caps.
The prefects have put us up on a high stone terrace
that runs round part of the building
and made us stand there wearing our caps.
Boys are laughing, and shouting, and jeering at us.

I feel the shame and blood rise in me.
I cannot move as innocence, and joy, and self-confidence
are burned off me.
I am roasted and hardened on the outside.

A hole is opened up in me
into which other scorn may pour more easily.
A shameful secret is that I learn to do this to myself
as well as to others.

This peculiar punishment
was not visited on others before or after.
But it was done to us.

Here on a morning in late summer
I know that in my life I have run
from many places and many people
to escape the shame
that cannot be escaped.

Instead, in the light of this day
I know I must face it all wherever it appears.

If we find ourselves inclined to visit shame on others
we should first visit the shame inside ourselves.

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