This first poem recalls a primary school activity. I don't know if children in primary schools are still asked to do this kind of thing?

The Age of Innocence

At school, we all had to pick a plague
out of Exodus; round the table,
elbowing each other in innocent enthusiasm,
the girls drew mostly feverish first-borns, the boys
boils and frogs; while I fancied the river of blood.
Except some little s-d had pinched all the reds.
So I did locusts: houses, palm trees, pyramids
carefully laid in; arabs arranged unsuspecting,
a sudden camel; stood back, aimed, and

FURIOUS blitzings with the pencil,
God’s green pepper milling down,
marvellously missing Moses,
tucked with his rifle in the margin.
Our work went up round the walls, whereon
the headmistress appeared
in a clap of lavender,
benign and gratified,
and scattered gold stars like benedictions.


from Home and Away (Bloodaxe, 1987), © Steve Ellis 1987, used by permission of the author

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