The first poem he sent me was about a bird in a coal mine. He sent me the English translation. This bird flew down the main shaft and got lost in the tunnels underground, then it sang and sang until it died. Everyone heard it singing, but no one could find it. I liked that poem. It made me think maybe I’d been missing something, because I hadn’t read any poetry since I left school. I wrote back, ‘Send me the Polish, just so I can see it.’ When the Polish came I tried it over in my head. It sounded a bit like the rhymes my mother used to sing.
At first we wrote every week, then it was twice. I used to write a bit every day then make myself wait until the middle of the week to send it. I wrote after Jade was in bed. Things would suddenly come to me. I’d write, ‘Oh, Steve, I’ve just remembered …’, or ‘… Do you see what I mean, Steve, or does it sound funny?’ It made it seem more like talking to him when I used his name.
He wrote me another poem. It was about being half-Polish and half-English, and the things I’d told him about speaking Polish until I was six and then forgetting it all:
‘Mother, I’ve lost the words you gave me.
Call the police, tell them
there’s a reward, I’ll do anything …’
He was going to put it in the literary magazine, ‘if you have no objection, Carla’. That was the way he wrote, always very polite. I said it was fine by me.
One day the Head stopped me and said, ‘Did you ever write to that chap? The Polish teacher?’
‘Yes,’ I said. Nothing more. Let him think I’d written once then not bothered. Luckily, Mrs Callendar came up to talk about OFSTED