I’m teaching my children what’s happening
right now, which is to say I’m dredging
an ocean of oil-black sludge into our home,
so foul it makes us retch. I’m hauling into
their minds centuries of humans
on their knees, gagged, raped, chained.
Do I want to tell them their home is built
on blood and bones? Do I want their
childhood garden filled with teargas,
Mace, a knee on the neck? The fact is,
sludge is already bubbling up the plug holes,
dripping off the roof, gunking our pipes
as we sit down to dinner, faced with
starvation or a feast of diseased flesh.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2020. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editor in 2020 was Janette Ayachi.
This poem grabs you by the throat and makes it difficult to swallow, the reader is whipped sideways, just like those poor humans who were tortured in history, who are excavated now for a revision of truth. That quandary present; what do we teach our children, what do we protect them from? And which one of those decisions helps the most! To be starved of song, or to have it played so loudly it stresses the body or deafens – the everpresent conundrum of parents preparing children, either by hiding the lion or teaching them to train a hippopotamus that can snap up the lion in one quick bite! Having homeschooled for a year now, I could relate to this poem immediately. Jess-Cooke has written and edited extensively on writing motherhood, she also twins up as a prolific crime fiction writer and she never fails to capture the clause and crusade of domesticity and the home and its mangle of moral exploration in society.
‘Homeschooling’ was written during the first lockdown, around June 2020. It is a culmination of the things I’ve been thinking about as a parent, the worries I have about the planet, and the education system. One of the things that continues to strike me about the pandemic is how the climate crisis continues, despite the media attention that has been drawn, understandably, towards Covid-19. It is challenging to teach our children about the planet right now, given the stark reports we occasionally hear from scientists about the state of the planet. I was trying to grapple with this challenge, and also the issue of ‘fake news’, whereby these reports are often buried and misconstrued in order to fulfill a political agenda.