Killing Time, By Simon Armitage


Meanwhile, somewhere in the state of Colorado, armed to the teeth
with thousands of flowers,
two boys entered the front door of their own high school
and for almost four hours
gave floral tributes to fellow students and members of the staff,
beginning with red roses
strewn among unsuspecting pupils during their lunch hour,
followed by posies
of peace lilies and wild orchids. Most thought the whole show
was one elaborate hoax
using silk replicas of the real thing, plastic imitations,
exquisite practical jokes,
but the flowers were no more fake than you or I,
and were handed out
as compliments returned, favors repaid, in good faith,
straight from the heart.
No would not be taken for an answer. Therefore a daffodil
was tucked behind the ear
of a boy in a baseball hat, and marigolds and peonies
threaded through the hair
of those caught on the stairs or spotted along corridors
until every pupil
who looked up from behind a desk could expect to be met
with at least a petal
or a dusting of pollen, if not an entire daisy chain,
or the color-burst
of a dozen foxgloves, flowering for all their worth,
or a buttonhole to the breast.
Upstairs in the school library, individuals were singled out
for special attention:
some were showered with blossom, others wore their blooms
like brooches or medallions;
even those who turned their backs or refused point-blank
to accept such honors
were decorated with buds, unseasonable fruits and rosettes
the same as the others.
By which time a crowd had gathered outside the school,
drawn through suburbia
by the rumor of flowers in full bloom, drawn through the air
like butterflies to buddleia,
like honey bees to honeysuckle, like hummingbirds
dipping their tongues in,
some to soak up such over-exuberance of thought, others
to savor the goings-on.
Finally, overcome by their own munificence or hay fever,
the flower-boys pinned
the last blooms on themselves, somewhat selfishly perhaps,
but had also planned
further surprises for those who swept through the aftermath
of bloom and buttercup:
garlands and bouquets, planted in lockers and cupboards,
timed to erupt
like the first day of spring into the arms of those
who, during the first bout,
either by fate or chance, had somehow been overlooked
and missed out.
Experts are now trying to say how two apparently quiet kids
from an apple-pie town
could get their hands on a veritable rain-forest of plants
and bring down
a whole botanical digest of one species or another onto the heads
of classmates and teachers,
and where such fascination began, and why it should lead
to an outpouring of this nature.
And even though many believe that flowers should be kept
in expert hands
only, or left to specialists in the field such as florists,
the law of the land
dictates that God, guts and gardening made the country
what it is today
and for as long as the flower industry can see to it
things are staying that way.
What they reckon is this: deny a person the right to carry
flowers of his own
and he’s liable to wind up on the business end of a flower
somebody else had grown.
As for the two boys, it’s back to the same old debate:
is it something in the mind that grows from birth, like a seed, or is it society
that makes a person that kind?

Simon Armitage

(Used without the permission of the writer or publisher, but this is an important poem that should be accessible.)


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