The Ordeal

By Glyn Maxwell b. 1962 Glyn Maxwell
Acknowledged on our side town,
       bragged of far from here, he’d been
our schoolfellow. He’d struggled in
       all but the soft options.

He’d struggled in the stuff that’s meant
       to get us somewhere: history,
French. But from the windows
       we unbolted to hang out of

we would always see him racing
       round the dust of the chalk oval,
with one who Swiss-timed seriously,
       wanting the world warned.

I was among some eighteen
       to shoulder him home gleaming,
his sweat like a belonging, skin
       from somewhere new he came from,

and when he strolled out showered
       in a suit that was a watchword,
we made notes like the nobodies
       we grinned to see we were now,

now national talk was of him.
       No snapshot really caught it.
I am among the few who saw him
       up close and believe me.

He set himself what no one
       had imagined and we bet him,
which teamed us with the watches, made us
       sidekicks, I was kidding.

It teamed us with the ones who say
       Impossible! Too far!
The ones who say The laws are laws,
       alas! but hope they are.

It started when the gun cracked
       You’re dead if he can do this.
Flashes went. We stood there,
       officialdom. When it was wholly

evident he couldn’t do,
       the lid came off the subject,
and the night relaxed its grip
       for none ever thought it likely

and the fault was with him only.
       To have sought fault in the world,
to have tested it. We left then,
       ashamed to share his corner

though we took it in good humour
       at other towns we work in.
We set him further leves
       when we thought about him. Sometimes

you hear he smashed his record,
       but he doesn’t make the freeze-frame,
is not among the seven
       who relax across the line, or you will

hear he missed it narrowly
       in drizzle out at Iffley
if you happen to be passing
       through the business end of Oxford.

—Failing that a rustling
       in what passes for a forest
when the clock is on the warpath
       for a head-to-head in winter.

Glyn Maxwell, “The Ordeal” from The Breakage: Poems. Copyright © 1999 by Glyn Maxwell. Reprinted by permission of Glyn Maxwell.

Source: The Breakage: Poems (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2000)

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Poet Glyn Maxwell b. 1962


Subjects Living, Youth, Coming of Age, Relationships, Friends & Enemies, Activities, School & Learning, Sports & Outdoor Activities

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 Glyn  Maxwell


Born in England to Welsh parents, Glyn Maxwell was educated at Oxford University and Boston University, where he studied both poetry and theater with Derek Walcott. This simultaneous training in two disciplines has enabled him to create innovative work across genres. Maxwell has written numerous verse plays as well as long narrative poems. The Sugar Mile (2005), a verse narrative set in a Manhattan bar a few days before . . .

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SUBJECT Living, Youth, Coming of Age, Relationships, Friends & Enemies, Activities, School & Learning, Sports & Outdoor Activities


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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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