The History Teacher, by BILLY COLLINS


Trying to protect his student’s innocence

he told them the Ice Age was really just

the Chilly Age, a period of a million years

when everyone had to wear sweaters.

And the Stone Age became the Gravel Age,

named after the long driveways of the time.

The Spanish Inquisition was nothing more

than an outbreak of questions such as

“How far is it from here to Madrid?”

“What do you call the matador’s hat?”

The War of the Roses took place in a garden,

and the Enola Gay dropped one tiny atom

on Japan.

The children would leave his classroom

for the playground and torment the weak

and the smart,

mussing up their hair and breaking their glasses,

while he gathered his notes and walked home

past flower beds and white picket fences,

wondering if they would believe that soldiers

in the Boer War told long, rambling stories

designed to make the enemy nod off.

From “Stand Up Poetry: The Anthology” edited by Charles H. Webb. (The University Press, California State University, Long Beach: $9.95) 1994 Reprinted by permission.