The Apostrophe Killers

At dawn we were out with shovels
ready for business. We heard
their metal slang in the wagon
as we sped away, with our bevels
burnished, ready to begin.
They had to give us the word,

but then we were men of action,
hunting the bastards like snipe.
There was loose talk on the lorry,
sexing the slight inflexion
of the driver. He was tense; worry
sucked on his vowels like a pipe.

A left turn into the compound
where word was they lingered still
tame as your tadpoles: we strangled
some wrigglers quick. That dampened
the quaverers while we mingled
with the skivers we'd come to kill.

Among the crush of the fallen,
black, and blemished, and flat,
we found an entire set of
mad dashes, and a semi-colon
which had gone offensively native.
We fed its corpse to the cat,

and left with a burlap of mutants,
a berk of a circumflex,
a tilde with serious diaresis,
that sort of mongrel. To science
we'd flog them; we roared out choruses
as we noosed their slippery necks.

We upturned the bags on tables
stretched to inspect our haul.
Punctuated with screech, the warming
air was a thrash. Our troubles
weren't over. Something was squirming,
something was having a ball.

Apostrophes, breeding like weasels!
We threw them an S. They ramped
on its backbone, possessive,
and dragged it away for reprisals.
Some words in my ear, submissive,
fell among them, and they champed

at their bits. They attacked a plural,
corrupted a couple of verbs,
got personal with some pronouns.
They cooked up a fancy quarrel
about rules (there were several run-ins
with their wise guys about the curbs

we placed on their hoodlum behaviour.
We had to splash salt on their tails).
It was time to collect our bounty
from the boss. Never was there a heavier
moment. "You vigilante,"
he sneered as I placed my pails

of angry apostrophe by him.
"You're lawless. Did you really suppose
I'd credit you for these forays?"
That was no call for decorum:
we poured out our cargo of terrors
fast. They shot straight up his nose.

Now they're out roaming stray sentences
like virulent doses of clap,
resisting arrest. They are feisty,
and, frankly, in several instances,
killers. They suck. They are thirsty.
And we - we're left taking the rap.

From Robinson Crusoe's Bank Holiday Monday

English teachers were accused by The Mail on Sunday of having tried to stamp out
the apostrophe in the 1960s.