Emily Wills

The Syllabus

It was easy at first, amo, amas, sweet Miss Bee
all talcum and bosoms, but after her came wars,
Gallic and otherwise, and Creepy Crawford
cockeyed in his built-up shoe, his spitty mouth
yodelling declensions to the barbarians.

For we were the dumb-at-grammar girls,
ignorant of feminine endings, how everything
had to agree, and only for him we’d unroll
our bunched-up skirts, so dowdy pleats
could actually touch our knees.

Sniggering behind split ends, we wondered
if he’d been born like that, or dropped
from an unforgiving height, but didn’t ask
if he really had showed Sandra whatever it was
he kept in the stationery cupboard.

We didn’t question when he halted the Gauls
mid-forage, so we could act out that play
in which we were the Spartan women withholding sex
while he took all the men’s parts, including the chorus,
and made Sandra the virgin slave.

These days it would be headline stuff: back then
we sweated into our nylon shirts, were merely relieved
when only a few pages before the women gave in
the tedious Gauls unditched themselves, resumed
their laying waste right up to O level. We sat it out

behind the ramparts of those back-row desks,
too drilled in Latinate vocabulary to ask
why it took two terms when it wasn’t on the syllabus
or even funny. And even now we’re not much good
at disagreeing, or getting the joke, or asking what
exactly we’ll be marked on in the end.

Emily Wills has two collections, Diverting the Sea (2000) and Developing the Negative (2008), and a pamphlet, Unmapped (2014), all published by The Rialto. Her work has been shortlisted for the Manchester poetry prize, and commended in the Troubadour and Hippocrates competitions. She won the Frogmore prize in 2012 and 2013. She lives in Gloucestershire where she works as a GP.