Saturday 9 March 2019

Mad About Metaphors and other Poetic Problems

 The following short story, ‘Mad About Metaphors and other Poetic Problems’ by Zoe Gaetjens was Highly Commended by Jackie French in the 2018 inaugural Buzz Words Short Story Prize.

Mo liked to talk. He liked to ask questions. And he liked to tell people what he was thinking. Most adults didn’t like Mo talking. In fact, barely a day went by when Mo wasn’t shushed. Just yesterday his mum shushed him. Mo had asked if Mrs Petrovich was pregnant with twins. She wasn’t pregnant. She was standing right there. She was not pleased.

It happened on Saturday too. Mo spent ages waiting for his dad outside the shop toilets. He asked his dad if he’d done a poo.
‘Mo, shh,’ his dad said. But seeing as he didn’t answer the question, Mo figured he must be right. His dad had been in there for a while.
‘Everyone poos,’ Mo said. ‘It really shouldn’t be a problem.’
His dad shushed him again.
Mo was constantly shushed at school too. By his teacher, the canteen mums, even his friends. So, when he had the opportunity to share his thoughts, without being shushed, he took it.
It all began in a poetry lesson. Yep, poetry. As soon as Mrs Wobbegong wrote ‘Poetic Imagery’ on the board Mo’s eyes rolled. His head slumped to the table. Floral arrangement would be more stimulating. Sifting sand would be more exciting. Cutting grass with scissors would be fascinating in comparison. Or so Mo thought. Mo was as close to a snooze as his Uncle Albert after Christmas lunch, when suddenly, in the foggy haze at the back of his brain Mrs Wobbegong’s notes made sense. It was like someone had flicked a switch in his head. Like the buzz you feel when you touch a friend after hurtling down a slide. Mo got it. He totally got it. Poetry didn’t have to be dull. It wasn’t just greying men rowing swooning women in white dresses around. It was about expressing yourself. Describing the world. Saying how you felt and what you thought, without being shushed. 
An idea began taking shape in Mo’s head. He raised his hand.
‘So you’re saying that writing a poem is like painting pictures using words. And poets use these word pictures, these metaphors and similes, to tell people how they see the world?’
That’s what Mo said. But he was thinking, ‘No one shushes a poet!’
Mrs Wobbegong attempted, not particularly well I might add, to re-shape her facial expression. Best not look too surprised she thought to herself. It might send the wrong message. But she was surprised. She had not expected her lesson to have gone so well. She had certainly not expected such poetic musings to be on her students’ lips, least of all a student like Mo.
Mrs Wobbegong tried not to be over the top. She didn’t usually like to make such a fuss, however, this answer was so good. Mo had hit the nail on the head.
‘Mo, how wonderful. What a great way to explain it. Yes, word pictures, quite right. One can never get enough of poetry.’
Boy would she live to regret saying that. In that moment, a can of worms had been opened that would be very difficult to close. Once Mo was encouraged there was no slowing him down. Mo was ready to share his thoughts with the world.
          He began with Greg. ‘Greg, your book is full of chicken scratchings.’

‘Huh?’ Greg looked confused.
Priya giggled. ‘He’s saying your hand writing is crazy messy,’ she explained before returning to her long division.
Mrs Wobbegong smiled, ‘Accurate observation Mo, and great application of the poetic content. Excellent cross curricular connections.’
This was fun, Mo thought. He hadn’t been shushed and he had been complimented. It was a good morning. He kept going.
‘That answer needs to be locked up in an insane asylum Tashi, it is crazy.’
Mrs Wobbegong nodded, ‘Another, amusing metaphor Mo.’
‘Mrs Wobbegong is it recess yet? Time is an injured snail inching slowly forward.’
‘Not how I’d encourage you to view my lesson Mo, but brilliant imagery.’
Fuelled by his teacher’s praise Mo was not slowed down by recess. He continued to share his thoughts via word pictures. ‘My mouth is a black hole,’ he shouted, almost between bites. ‘I’ll eviscerate everything in my path.’
Greg was still having trouble understanding Mo. Black hole he got, eviscerate not so much. 
‘He means demolish,’ Priya explained.
Greg’s face remained blank. ‘Eat.’ Priya translated.
‘Greg you’re as slow as the last 5 minutes before home time,’ said Mo.
Priya did not explain that one. Instead she said, ‘Mo, that one was pretty mean.’ But she didn’t shush him.
Things did not go so well after recess. Mrs Wobbegong was going over the instructions for her art lesson. Mo was feeling frustrated.
‘Mrs Wobbegong, you’re like last night’s spicy sausage dinner. I know you don’t want to be forgotten, but do you need to keep repeating yourself?’ Mo burped for emphasis. Yep, somehow that spicy sausage was still hanging around.
Mrs Wobbegong was beginning to regret her previous comments.
‘That’s enough Mo,’ she said. ‘I think we all need a little break. Over to timeout. And no more metaphors!’
Unfortunately, it was a little too late for that. Mo wasn’t like a bull at a gate. The gate had been opened and he was charging around the field, using his words to take down all in his path.
From the timeout desk Mo caught a whiff of something nasty and just had to tell everyone.
‘That stench is as bad as our garbage before bin night,’ Mo called out looking at Greg. ‘Was that you?’
Mo didn’t notice his friend’s face crumpling, a piece of paper discarded in the bin. He didn’t see Mrs Wobbegong’s face reddening, her rage a pimple about to explode. Mo didn’t notice his friend or his teacher because his underwear was beginning to inch up his bottom and he had another thought to share.
‘My undies are playing tug-a-war and my butt is losing out.’ Mo said.
The class feel about in laughter. Mrs Wobbegong erupted.
There it was. The shush was back.
‘I warned you Mo. No matter how poetic your thoughts are, they don’t always need to be shared,’ Mrs Wobbegong took a breath, calming herself, finding composure. ‘Although you do need to share one more time today. To the principal. Now!’
Mo knew that Mrs Wobbegong didn’t really mean he should share all his thoughts with the principal. He was beginning to remember that sometimes shushing could be helpful. But, when Principal Eggsnert let out an enormous sneeze as Mo entered his office there was no way to stay quiet.
‘Your cold is so bad- ‘
Principal Eggsnert cut him off. ‘Ahhh, yes Mo.’
Mo’s thoughts needed to be set free. He tried again.
‘Your nose is a-’
‘Mo,’ Principal Eggsnert stopped him a second time.
By now Mo was bouncing up and down, a ball of excitement. He couldn’t contain it. ‘There are-’
‘Mo I’ve been hearing reports about you.’
Mo could stand it no longer. He grabbed the nearest pencil and scrawled his thought so he wouldn’t lose it.
A nose cave full of bats hanging around.
Now it was Principal Eggsnert’s turn to stop.
‘Bats in the cave?’ offered Mo by way of explanation.
Strangely Principal Eggsnert didn’t shush Mo. He didn’t shake his fist, or give Mo detention. No. He laughed. And reached for a tissue.
‘You certainly have a way with words,’ he said. ‘I think writing them down, instead of blurting them out, is a good idea.’
And it was a good idea, a very good idea. Mo wrote, and wrote, and wrote.  And no one had to shush him. At least not until Mrs Wobbegong’s lesson on alliteration. When big, bouncy bottom was just begging to be bellowed out loud.

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