Keep a conker in your pocket to protect against broken bones.
Plan escape routes and learn to tie double knots.
Let yourself be guided by the mazy braille of garage walls
whenever wearing a patch outside, and refuse to take off
your Mighty Dynamo T-shirt on piping hot days for fear
of getting a tan as golden syrup brown as your Dad’s.
Practice jumping your garden gate and turning the front door key.
Should your dream heavy legs weigh you down when pursued,
throw yourself onto the grass and curl into a ball.
With luck your enemy will fall badly. Timing is crucial.
Go down too soon and you will look like a toddler playing peekaboo.
He will turn you like a fox turning a hedgehog.
Offer no resistance if he does, and do not worry
if the finer points of his instructions escape you when struck
by the whites of his Peter Lorre eyes. Sit up.
Notice how the rooks jostle for space in the silver birches.
The shadowboxing kite’s struggle to free itself.
Develop a stoical attitude towards lineups and take refuge
in alternative fictions. Stay home on test days with your cat
watching Mr Ben and The Red Balloon instead.
See the way the balloon follows the lonely boy from street
to street like a stray thought bubble only he can understand.
Harbour secret loves. Sarah Miles’s stutter. The roof of your mouth
where your thumb rests snug as Cinderella’s slipper.
The blue eyed girl in the opposite house
whose gate springing shut is a glass thrown into a fireplace
every time she leaves and returns. Cherish small freedoms,
most of which you will gawp at in astonishment in the blink of an eye.
The gap in the hedge. The open playing fields. Unlocked doors.
Your mother’s voice calling you in just before dark.
Try not to hog the background in photographs.
The first time you drink too much and are sick in the nut bowl
at Aunty Edie’s Christmas party, seize the opportunity to ask
your father’s silhouette to hug you as you lie on your deathbed
in the borrowed light from the landing,
knowing that in the morning, if there is one,
you can always deny the memory. Be careful with islands.
Mark Czanik was born in the sweet borderlands of Herefordshire, and now lives in Bath. Recent poems, stories, and artwork have appeared in MIR, The Rialto, Riptide, ROPES, Porridge, Pennine Platform, Morphrog, Black Nore Review, and 3AM.