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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.

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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

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“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

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on Japan.

The children would leave his classroom

for the playground and torment the weak

and the smart,

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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

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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.


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