‘When I Was A Boy’ by Liz Berry


I was a boy every week-day afternoon
the year I was seven.
Hitched my school skirt into shorts,
flattened my hair with a black ballet band,
wore my brother’s elasticated tie.

I had many different names:
sometimes Paul or Steven (boy next door),
sometimes Dean (rough) or Jean Paul
(exotic), here on exchange.
I didn’t bother with chit chat, got straight

down to the real stuff: an aeroplane
made from homework that gave papercuts
as it flew, thin sugary sticks I sucked
like cigarettes then tossed out the window,
the stubble I was cultivating.

I built remarkable things: a model
of our school with working windows,
a ukulele. I twirled two potato guns
on my cocked thumbs. The girls loved me:
held my hand whilst I ignored them,

swaggered down the street, ripe
for danger or rode my bike
with my blouse off, admiring my reflection
in wing mirrors, legs kicked
in a triumphant V, fist in the air.

(from The Patron Saint of Schoolgirls (tall-lighthouse); first published in Mslexia)

Liz Berry was born in the Black Country. She received an Eric Gregory Award in 2009 and her debut pamphlet The Patron Saint of Schoolgirls was published as the winner of the Tall-Lighthouse Prize in 2010. Her poems have appeared in many of the major UK magazines and been broadcast on BBC Radio 3. In 2012, she was commended in the National Poetry Competition and won the Poetry London award. Liz has written about dialect poetry for The Poetry School and The Young Poets Network. She is the assistant poetry editor at Ambit magazine.