How It All Started


Do you know this dream? An exam-room
full of neat, serious girls, your lucky gonk
by your fountain pen, the plop of tennis balls
through an open window. You’re here for
‘O’ level history on The Causes
Of The First World War but you’ve no idea –
too busy bunking off to watch Crown Court,
and the teacher says You may turn over
and begin and there’s a question
on the Algeciras crisis and all you can think is,
Algeciras sounds like a virus or a cloud formation,
your eyes blur, scanning for something
you understand, you wonder who Bismarck was,
why his web of Alliances was so significant,
your throat swells like a new loaf, you watch
the girls who know the answers to these things,
and you think of the stutter of gunfire, a soldier’s
booted foot lying in a puddle, how the leather split,
how the rest of him wasn’t there, just a stump
of bone, and if you’d learned how it all started,
you might have known how to prevent this.
You should have known how to prevent this.

from Lip (Smith Doorstop, 2007), © Catherine Smith 2007, used by permission of the author and The Poetry Business.

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